PLANT DYES | Black Twinberry Honeysuckle (Lonicera involucrata)

Black Twinberry Honeysuckle (Lonicera involucrata) shrubs are plentiful in the forests of NW Canada/US. Each spring, they produce yellow tube/ trumpet shaped flowers with two sticky green brackets. These brackets eventually mature to deep purplish-burgundy in the summer bearing two shiny black-purple berries; hence the name Twinberries.

Upon researching these berries I discovered that they have a history of various uses among the native tribes of America. The Blackfoot Indians used an infusion of the berries as a cathartic and emetic to cleanse the body for stomach and chest problems [1]. The Makah and Ozette tribes applied mashed berries to the scalp for dandruff and as a hair dye. They also used the fruit to dye basketry [2]. The Hesquiat Indians of Vancouver Island, BC mashed boiled berries to make a purple paint and ink [3]. The Quileute tribe used the juice of the berries for painting dolls’ faces and hair [4]. Naturally, I was very excited to test these berries for their ‘dye’ potential and color range. 😉

We have been foraging these berries for the past week as they are plentiful around the trails here. We foraged and froze them till we had enough for a 4:1 berry to fiber ratio. I figured this was a safe ratio to begin with.  I threw the frozen berries into the pot and boiled, mashed and simmer them till the water turned a brilliant purple! Then I strained the berries out…and in went my samples.


I always do a quick test to check for the strength of color/ dye whenever using a new species for the time. So I used a piece of cotton (which had been treated with tannic acid, soymilk & alum) and a small piece of handmade paper.

SAM_0318 copy

The cotton swatch dyed a dark purple fairly quickly but the paper took on a paler hue. This looked promising enough to test for a full color range. For samples, I used Eri silk, Alpaca yarn and Cotton yarn with various mordants (alum, copper & iron) as well as pH variations like basic (baking soda) or acidic (vinegar).

Here are the results.
Natural dye color range of the Black Twinberry Honesuckle (Inkberry) or Lonicera involucrata. Variations in mordants tested: No mordant, Alum, Iron and Copper. Variations in pH tested: Neutral, Acidic (Vinegar) and basic (baking soda). Fibers tested: Eri silk thread, Alpaca wool yarn and Cotton cord.
pH modification shift the purple color to a teal blue.
Some really gorgeous purples, lilacs, fuchsia and blues were obtained. I promptly dyed some embroidery skeins, wool roving and silk fabric. 😀 Check out the variegated blue-gold thread below! Swoon.
Embroidery flosses, all dyed from black twinberris. The first three are Eri Silk (peace / ahimsa silk) and the last one is a blend of merino, silk and cashmere.
Back: Raw Silk. Far Right: Corriedale wool roving.
Back: Mulbery silk; Front: Raw silk
[1] Hellson, John C. 1974 Ethnobotany of the Blackfoot Indians. Ottawa. National Museums of Canada. Mercury Series (p. 67)
[2] Gill, Steven J. 1983 Ethnobotany of the Makah and Ozette People, Olympic Peninsula, Washington (USA). Washington State University, Ph.D. Thesis (p. 317)
[3] Turner, Nancy J. and Barbara S. Efrat 1982 Ethnobotany of the Hesquiat Indians of Vancouver Island. Victoria. British Columbia Provincial Museum (p. 63)
[4] Gunther, Erna 1973 Ethnobotany of Western Washington. Seattle. University of Washington Press. Revised edition (p. 48)



4 thoughts on “PLANT DYES | Black Twinberry Honeysuckle (Lonicera involucrata)

  1. We just found a local spot with lots of black twinberry. “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast” said that it was traditionally used for dyeing, and I was so pleased to find your post. Would you recommend a 4:1 ratio still? I’m going to go back very soon to harvest.


    1. Hi Mel, if using ripe soft berries, you can try a 2:1. Also, I found this dye to be VERY pH sensitive, so be careful when handling the wet fabric. I also splashed some vinegar on a fabric for purple hued camouflage look, lol. I would love to know how yours turns out!


      1. Thanks for the info! I just posted the results to my Instagram – I’m @colibri_homestead. Sooo pH sensitive!! Thanks again for your help!

        Liked by 1 person

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