Natural, organic yellow dyes for fabric and fibers can be created from blossoms, leaves, roots, and bark of many different plants. The key is to gather these plants during the proper season and then create the dyes. You can use these dyes to create thousands of tie-dye projects and more.
Learn how to create natural yellow dyes from 35 plants that can be used for home, clothing, and craft projects. Other plants and natural materials will create a rainbow of dyes including black to green and purple to peach.
Once you have extracted the color from the natural tannins in the plant material, you can use it to dye yarns and fabrics. To create the deepest and longest-lasting colors, use plenty of the plant material, allow the dye bath to steep for several hours, and use appropriate mordants to set the colors in the fabric. It's also important to check for dye bleeding after you've dyed fabrics.
Alfalfa, Medicago sativa, is an important forage crop in the United States and many other countries. It resembles clover but it's a legume with a deep root system.
The seeds of alfalfa can be gathered or purchased to create a yellow dye bath when boiled with water.
Barberry is a popular landscape shrub because it will grow under almost any condition. The foliage is often dark red but bright lime green-leafed varieties are available. The shrub has thorns that should be handled with care.
To achieve a yellow dye, add barberry bark in a boiling water bath.
Bay leaf, Laurus nobilis, originated in Asia Minor and spread to other similar climates. The laurel tree was very important in many ancient mythologies that glorify the tree as a symbol of honor.
Bay leaves are used fresh or dried in cooking for their distinctive flavor and fragrance. The same leaves can be used to produce a yellow dye bath with boiling water. Fresh leaves can be picked or dried leaves can be purchased for dye.
Burdock, Arctium, is a part of the thistle family and native to Europe. The plants have dark green leaves that are woolly underneath. The seed burrs of these plants catch on the fur of animals and human clothing.
In the early 1940s, George de Mestral, a Swiss inventor, became curious about the burrs on his clothing and dog's fur. Examining them under a microscope, he observed the hook-and-loop system that the seeds use to attach to fabrics. The results of his observations became Velcro. Those same burrs when boiled with water become a yellow dye bath.
Celery, Apium graveolens, is a plant and vegetable familiar to most everyone. It is now widely cultivated to flavor soups, stews, and to eat raw. Celery leaves were part of the garlands found in the tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun (who died in 1323 B.C.).
Those same celery leaves can be boiled with water to create a yellow dye bath.
Chameleon plant, Houttuynia cordata, is also called English lizard tail, heartleaf, fishwort, and bishop's weed. It is a flowering plant native to the Far East. The plant grows well in moist to wet soil and even slightly submerged in water in partial or full sun. It has been cultivated for temperate garden use.
To create a golden dye, the entire plant is steeped in boiling water.
Crocus, C. chrysanthus, is a genus in the iris family. Most bloom as a harbinger of spring during the late winter months. They are native to woodlands and meadows around the world in temperate areas. Bulbs are simple to plant and can be purchased online.
The plentiful yellow crocus produces a yellow dye bath when the petals are boiled with water.
Daffodil, Narcissus, is a spring-flowering bulb in the Amaryllis family. The traditional daffodil bloom of folklore, poetry, and field is yellow to golden-yellow. However, daffodils have been bred to produce different colors and double or triple blooms.
To produce a yellow dye, use the flower heads after they have dried with an alum mordant in boiling water.
The dahlia is a bushy, tuberous perennial plant native to Mexico, Central America, and Colombia related to the sunflower, daisy, chrysanthemum, and zinnia. They are mainly grown as garden plants and are brightly colored, displaying most hues except for blue.
The red, yellow, and orange flowers can be used fresh or dried to make a yellow to orange dye when boiled with water.
Dandelions, Taraxacum, are native to Eurasia and North America. They are characterized by bright yellow flowers and leaves with a ragged sawtooth look and a deep taproot.
Dandelion flowers produce a yellow dye bath when boiled in water; while the roots will produce a warm brown dye.
Greenwood, Genista tinctoria, is a low mounding plant with snapdragon-like electric yellow spring flowers. Blooms are incredibly showy and last for three to six weeks depending upon the weather. The bright green arching stems produce a yellow dye bath when boiled in water.
Goldenrod, Solidago, is a very common wildflower found throughout the United States. Goldenrods are late bloomers, flowering in late summer into the fall. They are all perennials with large clusters of small yellow flowers.
Goldenrod flowers can produce a yellow dye when boiled with water. Goldenrod shoots gathered in early spring will make a deep brown dye when boiled in water.
Heather, Calluna vulgaris, is a low-growing perennial shrub growing found widely in Europe and Asia Minor on acidic soils in open sunny areas. It has small scale leaves and mauve flowers. It is now a very popular ornamental plant in gardens.
Rather than the flowers, it is the whole heather plant that is used to produce a yellow dye bath when boiled with water.
Hickory trees, Carya, can be found from China and India to the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Hickory flowers are small, yellow-green catkins produced in spring. The fruit is an oval nut enclosed in a four-valved husk, which splits open at maturity.
The leaves produce a brilliant yellow show in the autumn and if boiled in a large quantity with salted water produce a bright yellow dye.
Oregon Grape, Mahonia, is an evergreen shrub native to eastern Asia, the Himalayas, North America, and Central America. It is found both wild and cultivated for landscapes. It produces yellow flowers in autumn, winter, and early spring and blue-black berries that resemble grapes.
It is the roots that will produce a yellow dye when boiled with water.
Marigold, Tagetes, is one of the most common summer garden plants. The flowers are rich in the orange-yellow carotenoid lutein which is used as a food coloring in the European Union for foods such as pasta, oil, margarine, dairy products, and citrus juice. In the United States, however, the powders and extracts are only approved as colorants in poultry feed.
The flowers can be gathered fresh or dried to create a yellow dye bath with boiling water.
Mullen, Verbascum thapsus, is most commonly considered a weed. It is native to Eurasia but was introduced to the United States by early settlers.
Mullen is a biennial that grows only leaves the first year and then flowers and dies the second year. During the first year, it can produce 18-inch long wooly gray leaves that form a bushel basket-sized rosette. The roots and leaves when combined with boiling water produces a pale yellow dye bath.
Old Man's Beard Lichen
Old Man's Beard, Usnea, is a lichen not to be confused with Spanish Moss. It grows worldwide and has been used medicinally for thousands of years as an antibiotic and antifungal.
The lichen, depending upon its growing conditions, can produce a yellow to orange dye bath when boiled with water.
Osage Orange, Maclura pomifera, also called hedge apple or Horse apple, is a small deciduous tree or large shrub related to the mulberry family. The fruit is roughly spherical and bumpy filled with a sticky white latex sap. In fall, the fruit turns a bright yellow-green.
The wood and bark will produce a pale yellow dye when boiled with water.
Oxalis is part of the wood-sorrel family and occurs throughout most of the world, except for the polar areas. Many varieties produce white, pink, red, or yellow flowers.
To produce a yellow dye bath, use the yellow flower heads with a bit of the stem in boiling water. The dye will be nearly fluorescent yellow and becomes colorfast with alum mordant.
Peach Tree Leaves
While the fruit of the peach tree, Prunus persica, is usually the prize, it is the leaves that will produce a yellow dye bath when boiled in water.
Red Clover, Trifolium pratense, is native to Europe, Western Asia, and northwest Africa but has been naturalized in many other regions. It is an herbaceous, short-lived perennial plant with dark pink flowers with a paler base.
It is widely grown as a fodder crop and to increase nitrogen in the soil. The entire plant will produce a golden dye when combined with an alum mordant in boiling water.
Safflower, Carthamus tinctorius, is a thistle-like annual. It is commercially cultivated for vegetable oil extracted from the seeds and as bird food. The plants have yellow, orange, or red flower heads with one to five flowers on each branch.
Before the development of synthetic dyes, safflower was grown for its seeds and used for coloring and flavoring foods and making yellow fabric dyes. The flowers soaked in water will release the yellow dye.
The Sassafras tree, Sassafras albidum, is native to eastern North America from Ontario to central Florida. It is a medium-sized deciduous tree with bark that is thick, dark red-brown, and deeply furrowed. A yellow dye can be extracted from the wood and bark when boiled in water.
Sassafras shoots are used to flavor root beer and the dried and ground leaves are known as filé powder used for thickening sauces and soups in Cajun and Creole cooking.
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus or the saffron crocus. Most produce three or four flowers that each have three vivid crimson stigmas. The stigmas are gathered and dried to use in cooking as a seasoning and coloring agent. Because each flower's stigmas need to be collected by hand and there are only a few per flower, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.
It is also one of the best yellow fabric dyes when set with alum. Saffron can be purchased to use as a dye.
St. John's Wort
St. John's Wort, Hypericum perforatum, is often known as an over-the-counter treatment for mild depression. But for many years the flowers and leaves of the common St. John's Wort, which can be found in almost every country, were gathered to create a gold or yellow dye when boiled in water.
Sumacs, Rhus, grow in subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world, especially in Africa and North America.
Almost every part of the common sumac plant can be used to create dyes. The leaves will produce a tan or very light brown dye but the inner pith of sumac branches produce a bright yellow dye when boiled with water.
The sunflower, Helianthus annuus, is an annual plant native to the Americas. The sunflower is named for its ability to follow the sun in the course of a day. To create a yellow dye bath, use the entire flower head while it is fresh. Combine with boiling water to extract the dye. Do not wait until the sunflower seeds are dry.
Syrian Rue, Peganum harmala, is native from the eastern Mediterranean region east to India. It was first planted in the United States in 1928 in the state of New Mexico by a farmer wanting to manufacture the dye "Turkish Red" from its seeds.
However, when the seeds are boiled with water, a yellow fluorescent dye is obtained. It takes an alcohol bath to obtain a red dye. The seeds can be purchased in bulk to create dyes.
Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare, is a perennial, herbaceous flowering plant of the aster family native to temperate Europe and Asia. It is also known as Bitter Buttons, Cow Bitter, Mugwort, or Golden Buttons. It has become an invasive weed in many areas.
The flowers will produce a yellow dye bath when combined with boiling water.
Turmeric is from the ginger family and native to Southeast Asia. The rhizomes of the plant are gathered, boiled, and dried to produce a spice used in cooking. The bright yellow powder can also be used as a fabric dye by dissolving it in hot water. The depth of color can be controlled by the amount of turmeric used.
The weeping willow tree, Salix, loves full sun, moist soil, and grows to a height and width of 35-50' on average, with a weeping shape. The leaves, when boiled with water will produce a yellow dye. It is a brittle tree and drops lots of twigs and bark which are great for making peachy-brown dye baths.
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is a flowering plant native to the Northern Hemisphere. It grows wild and has been cultivated for garden plantings. The flowers can range from white to pink to yellow.
The entire plant including roots, leaves, stems, and flowers is used to produce a yellow dye bath with boiling water.
Yellow Dock Roots
Yellow Dock, Rumex crispus, is a widespread naturalized plant throughout the temperate world including North America, southern South America, New Zealand, and parts of Australia.
The deep taproots will produce a yellow to mustard-colored dye bath with boiling water. The leaves, flowers, and seeds, when boiled in water, produce varying shades of brown dye.
Yellow onions, Allium cepa, are full-flavored and used in the food of many cultures. The skins are a golden yellow and when boiled in quantity with water and set with alum produce a yellow to deep orange dye.