PLANT DYES | Black Twinberry Honeysuckle (Lonicera involucrata)

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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-maroon 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.

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I always to 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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Back: Raw Silk. Far Right: Corriedale wool roving.
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Back: Mulbery silk; Front: Raw silk
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References:
[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)

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Mel says:

    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.

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    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!

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      1. Mel says:

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

        Like

  2. Keri Keifer says:

    this is so cool!!!! i am in CA and have some Lonerica japonica berries I’m going to try dyeing with … they don’t seem as promising, but perhaps!!!

    Like

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