PLANT DYES | Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)


We went out for a hike near the Squamish estuary a couple days ago, and all along the train track were wild Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella), a common herb/weed. Small maroon flowers bloom in the summertime from their long, ridged stems. However, the characteristic feature of this herb (identifier) are it’s arrowhead shaped leaves with two pointed horns at the base. The leaves weren’t large enough to forage for salad and it’s too early in the summer to harvest their roots for Essiac tea. So, I brought home a bunch to dye with! 🙂 I have read that these give a dark black-green color on some blogs, but I was excited to try it myself.

Sheep Sorrel is high in oxalic acid (a plant tannin), therefore there is no need to add an alum mordant or treat your fibers with tannic acid first. We gathered the whole plant and used them fresh. They were boiled and simmered for 1-2 hours. I was surprised to see the bright red-orange dye bath it yielded. Make sure to strain this dye before use as the small flower heads are really hard to get off the fabric.

Orange-Red dye bath from Sheep Sorrel

I initially threw in a small sample of wool, cotton and silk to see what color I would get. To my surprise, the cotton picked up no dye at all! The wool took on a light yellow hue and the silk a barely there yellow. So I decided to only experiment with wool for the color payoff. I used 100% pure virgin wool yarn and tested for various mordants: No mordant, Alum, Copper & Iron as well as varying pH levels: neutral, acidic (with Vinegar) and basic (with baking soda). Here are the results I got for the color range for field Sheep Sorrel:

Natural Dye Color Range of Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) using various mordants (alum, copper, iron) and varying pH (acidic, basic, neutral).

I was really impressed with the green and ‘almost’ black I achieved. Considering that Sheep Sorrel  is a very prolific weed in N. America, this seems like a very viable and sustainable option to get green and black. I dyed some embroidery threads, wool roving for felting as well as wool felt sheets to add to my collection!

Green and Brown-Black natural dye from the field Sheep Sorrel herb, a prolific weed in N. America.
Embroidery threads (blend of merino, silk & cashmere) and tapestry yarn (handspun Corriedale wool) dyed with Sheep Sorrel.
Side by side comparison of the two greens obtained form Sheep Sorrel.
Shade #1 from Sheep Sorrel: a dark blackish brown; Left: wool felt sheet, Right: embroidery skein.
Shade #2 from Sheep Sorrel: a golden green (very pretty color in person, seems to almost be glowing from within). Top: tapestry yarn, Bottom: wool roving.
Shade #3 from Sheep Sorrel: a bright grassy green.

~in so much gratitude for these pigment molecules carefully nurtured by the Sun in these ‘weedy’ Sheep Sorrel!~


9 thoughts on “PLANT DYES | Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella)

  1. Impressing. I have only ever gotten different pinks from sorrel, but I used the seeds. This seems a versatile dye pland and I am going to try the flowerings ones as well – when they start flowering here (Denmark) Could you add the notes to your colour chart, please. I’d be interested in trying off some of your combos in my part of the world and there’s no pont in re-inventing everything rom scratch every time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Let me try guessing: Bunches of 3, R-L
      Mordants: first 9 with alum, alum + copper, alum + iron.
      Last 9 withour alum, neutral, copper, iron.
      pH vaiation: 1st of ehach set of 3 is the neutral, second one is acidic and third basic R-L here as well.

      I wonder if I’m rigth. Please do tell.
      and sorry for any typos and mistakes, I can’t blame autocorrect, only my insufficient English.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. yes, the one with the knots are pre treated with the laum, the one without the knots are not. From L to Right = Bunches of 3 (basic, acidic, neutral) and (iron, copper, alum/or not).


    2. I hadn’t logged in a long while, sorry for the late response! Pink!!!! I have to try the seeds! 🙂
      Green = copper mordant and black/dark brown = iron mordant. Keep the dye bath neutral for the greens and basic for the black/browns. Let me know how it goes. : )


  2. How dit you get the greens? Beautiful colors! It would be helpful if you would comment on each color what you used as mordant and wether you used acidic or base.


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