Dyeing with Rhubarb Leaves

Forced Rhubarb with Ceramic ForcerI may not have been around much since the eclipse of the moon, but in all the chaos I did manage to do some more experimental botanical dyeing.

The rhubarb in my garden tried to flower recently, which would have meant no rhubarb pies this year, so I cut off the flower bud and its large attached leaf.

You can’t eat rhubarb leaves as they are poisonous due to their high content of oxalic acid. I’d just recently read, in India Flint’s Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles that rhubarb leaves are a good source of dye and also mordant.

A mordant is a dye fixative and there are acid and alkaline mordants. The acidity/alkalinity of a mordant affects the colours produced when printing with plant material. A red flower might turn up black in a print, for instance.

Rhubarb Dyed Textiles and Papers May 2015So I chopped up the rhubarb leaf and for a couple of hours, in my copper dyeing pot, I boiled some sample pieces of muslin, cotton, various papers and for the first time, silk. I loved the result, especially the silk. I can see why silk is the preferred textile for dyeing.

The colour is a mix between beige and green, I think. The depth of colour differs between materials. In this case, the deepest shade is the silk; the palest, the khadi paper.

Eco Print Bundles Fabric Dyed with Rhubarb LeavesIn another post I’ll show you what happened when I bundled the dyed/mordanted materials with some plant matter from my garden and freezer stash. I also bundled a selection of raw i.e. unmordanted materials, to compare the results.  I steamed the bundles for two hours over the rhubarb leaf dye.

I didn’t get what I expected. Not at all.  But I like that I can do something else with rhubarb leaves other than compost them. Dyeing fabric slowly by composting is another method of dyeing I’m looking into. Guess what’s going into my allotment compost heaps later this year?







About AnnIsikArts

Artist/Writer/Chess Enthusiast/Musician (Singer)/Gardener
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18 Responses to Dyeing with Rhubarb Leaves

  1. arlee says:

    trying again, as i tried a week or so ago–horse chestnut may not give much dye, might be used as a tannin, but is good for ecoprinting


  2. arlee says:

    I can’t seem to comment on the comment—horse chestnuts are negligible at best as a dye, but are great for ecoprinting.


  3. Suzanne says:

    This is inspiring. I have a rhubarb plant but can’t eat it because it’s too acid for me. I was going to leave the plant behind when I move from this house next week. Now I will dig it up and replant it in my new house to use as a dye. It’s fabulous news that you can use it as a mordant too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • AnnIsikArts says:

      But please take note that rhubarb LEAVES are poisonous, being high in oxalic acid. Don’t dye wih these without ventilation and wear gloves. Note that during World War II the British Government encouraged people to eat rhubarb leaves as a green vegetable – greens being in so short supply – causing mass sickness. At least one person actually died as a result of eating large quantities of rhubarb leaves. As Arlee has pointed out, she gets better dye from the stalks, which is the bit of the rhubarb plant we eat and contains much less oxalic acid.


    • AnnIsikArts says:

      But be careful with rhubarb leaves. They ARE poisonous. Ventilation is essential. Handle with gloves. Someone made a comment to the effect that she preferred to dye using rhubarb stalks (which is the bit of the rhubarb that we eat) and got a better dye without risking any poisoning from the oxalic acid contained in larger quantities in the leaves.


  4. arlee says:

    also be aware that the leaves of rhubarb contain 40X the oxalic acid as the stalks and should NOT be used inside, as the fumes can be extremely toxic. the roots are the best for colour too!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Laura says:

    HI thanks for your great blog and information. Is it possible to use wood poppies roots as a dye they are a brilliant yellow colour. Laura


    • AnnIsikArts says:

      I’ve never heard of the wood poppy, Laura. I looked up the term. The latin name is Stylophorum diphyllum, which in the British Isles refers to a flower called Celandine, which is a member of the poppy family. It is yellow. Actually, we have a Greater Celandine and a Lesser Celandine. The Lesser has double the petals. I’ve no idea whether they would be useful for dyeing purposes, but what I have read suggests that they are too toxic to risk use. ALL PARTS OF THE PLANT ARE HIGHLY POISONOUS INCLUDING THE SAP (AKA LATEX). GREATER CELANDINE CONTAINS THE POISONS ISOQUINOLINE ALKALOIDS CHELIDONINE, CHELIDONINE, CHELERYTHRINE, SANGUINARINE, COPTISINE AND BERBERINE AND OTHER BENZYL ISOQUINOLINE ALKALOIDS.

      Info from Wildflower Finder Org UK.

      Liked by 1 person

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