Alder Buckthorn is a large, slow-growing shrub that reaches up to 5 metres in height. It is called Alder Buckthorn because of its close association with alders but, despite the name, it is thornless. This shrub is native of Europe and it is easily grown, it can be made into hedges and it coppices well. Alder Buckthorn is a good bee plant and a main food plant for the larvae of the yellow brimstone butterfly. It produces small red berries in the spring that become black when ripe. The fresh bark and the unripe fruit are, however, toxic.
Note: The famous Persian berries come from another species of Buckthorn, Rhamnus saxatilis.
This is a useful dye, as it can be used without a mordant. You will get mustard yellows on wool by simmering, and brick or cinnamon red by fermentation.
You will get richer colours with dried alder buckthorn bark than you will with fresh bark.
a) Fermentation or alkaline extraction method with buckthorn bark
This method has been used since the Iron Age and it is very useful because it does not require the use of mordants which were not widely available in the past. Fermentation dyeing works well with barks of plants rich in tannin (for example oak, maple, willow and birch). The longer you ferment the better, 3 to 4 weeks is a good time, but some people ferment for 3 to 10 years. You need to keep the container closed to avoid contamination by moulds, the lid also helps to contain the odour which can be quite strong.
An advantage of this method is that little water is needed and no source of heat other than the sun. Disadvantages include the smell and that it is time consuming.
You will need:
- 100 gm buckthorn bark
- 100 gm un-mordanted wool
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Updated on 19 April 2021
Website & photos by Mike Roberts ©2006-21 Wild Colours natural dyes