Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Natural Egg Dyes (Part One)

With Ostara and Easter right around the corner, I figured now would be a good time to start playing around with natural dyes again. This is something I tried a little bit in the past, but never had great success with. I'm not sure what I was doing wrong then, I distinctly remember having poor results with turmeric - but this time around it gave a rich and even color. I suppose, like many skills, it just takes a bit of experimenting and practice.

So, I decided to give four dyes a try - turmeric, beets, mugwort, and smoked paprika. (We did not have any plain paprika at the time, and I'm not sure if there would be any real difference anyway.)

First I had to boil some eggs. There are lots of ways to do this, but my favorite method is to put the eggs in a pot, only a single layer of them. Fill the pot with cool water to about an inch above the eggs. Put the pot on the stove, over medium high heat. When it comes to a boil turn the heat down to low and let it simmer for two minutes. After two minutes, remove it from the heat, put the cover on the pot, and let it sit for 12 minutes. At that point you may want to take one of the eggs, run it under cold water, and make sure it's done. In my experience though, this is a fairly fool proof method. Then run all the eggs under cold water, and let them cool. If you use fresh eggs, they'll be harder to peel. It's best to get your eggs four or five days before you'll need them.

Turmeric produced a very vibrant and even yellow dye. To make this dye, I mixed two tablespoons of turmeric into a cup of hot water. I let the dye cool to room temperature, and mixed in a tablespoon of white vinegar. First I put the egg in for just a minute or two - that produced a pale yellow-orange egg (left). I put the egg back in for another five minutes, which gave a really rich yellow (right.)

Smoked Paprika

The paprika dye was made in the same way as the turmeric dye. Two tablespoons smoked paprika into a cup of hot water. When it cooled, I mixed in a tablespoon of white vinegar. this dye didn't coat as evenly for me. I left it in for a minute or so, and it came out pale orange with some dark orange splotches (left). After another five minutes, it was a darker orange, but still a bit splotchy (right). Leaving it in the dye even longer didn't seem to change it much. Not an even dye, but it did make some interesting patterns.

For both the turmeric and paprika dyes, you will have to allow the eggs to dry a bit, then gently wipe off any spice sticking to it.(Or just strain the water before dipping eggs.)

The beet dye took the longest to make, because I used fresh beets. Using the liquid from a can of beets would probably be quicker - but I love eating beet greens, so I went for fresh. I diced up a cup of beets, and added that to two cups of water. I let that come to a boil on the stove, then reduced the heat and let it simmer for about forty minutes. Strained the beets from the liquid, allowed the liquid to cool, and added a tablespoon of white vinegar. The beet dye made a lovely pastel pink after a minute or two (left), and five minutes added to that gave a deeper pink (right).

The final dye was made with mugwort. I let two tablespoons dried mugwort steep in a cup of hot water until the water came to room temperature. Strained the mugwort out, and added a tablespoon white vinegar to the liquid. I left it in for a minute and saw no change to the egg. After about ten minutes longer in the dye, the egg was a very pale green. I didn't think it worked well, so I didn't bother to take any pictures - but the color seemed a bit deeper this morning, so I included it in the group shot above. I think in the future I'll try something else to make a green dye.

Whatever dye you use, if you like the look of really glossy eggs, you just need to rub a little olive oil onto each egg. Putting rubber bands around the eggs while dying them can make interesting designs, and you can always use wax or crayon to make more detailed designs before dipping the eggs into the dye.

Later this week I plan to test out more dyes, as well as a few different dying methods. Should be fun! Later this month I also want to write about making talismans from hollow eggs, which can be a nice thing to include as part of an Ostara ritual.


  1. I think I once heard about using spinach for natural green dye. Wouldn't know how to do it, though... never tried it so far! Every year I think about it, and in the end am so exhausted by the time spring comes around that I just use the store-bought colors. Who knows, maybe this year... anyway, thanks for sharing!!

    (I think I read that red cabbage gives a nice blue, if you want to try this as well.)

    1. Spinach is on my list of things to try, basically you treat it like the beets. I might give the cabbage a try, too, see how that comes out - I hear you have to let the eggs sit in the dye for a long time, though.

  2. Thanks for sharing! I'll be trying to dye eggs soon myself. :)