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 . 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 . The Hesquiat Indians of Vancouver Island, BC mashed boiled berries to make a purple paint and ink . The Quileute tribe used the juice of the berries for painting dolls’ faces and hair . 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 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.
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.
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.
 Hellson, John C. 1974 Ethnobotany of the Blackfoot Indians. Ottawa. National Museums of Canada. Mercury Series (p. 67)
 Gill, Steven J. 1983 Ethnobotany of the Makah and Ozette People, Olympic Peninsula, Washington (USA). Washington State University, Ph.D. Thesis (p. 317)
 Turner, Nancy J. and Barbara S. Efrat 1982 Ethnobotany of the Hesquiat Indians of Vancouver Island. Victoria. British Columbia Provincial Museum (p. 63)
 Gunther, Erna 1973 Ethnobotany of Western Washington. Seattle. University of Washington Press. Revised edition (p. 48)