Yellow dyes are "about as numerous as red ones", and can be extracted from saffron, pomegranate rind, turmeric, safflower, onionskins, and a number of weedy flowering plants. Limited evidence suggests the use of weld (Reseda luteola), also called mignonette or dyer's rocket before the Iron Age, but it was an important dye of the ancient Mediterranean and Europe and is indigenous to England. Two brilliant yellow dyes of commercial importance in Europe from the 18th century are derived from trees of the Americas: quercitron from the inner bark of oaks native to North America and fustic from the dyer's mulberry tree (Maclura tinctoria) of the West Indies and Mexico.

In rivercane basketweaving among Southeastern Woodlands tribes in the Americas, butternut (Juglans cinerea) and yellow root (Xanthorhiza simplicissima) provide a rich yellow color. Chitimacha basket weavers have a complex formula for yellow that employs a dock plant (most likely Rumex crispus) for yellow. Navajo artists create yellow dyes from small snake-weed, brown onion skins, and rubber plant (Parthenium incanum). Rabbitbush (Chrysothamnus) and rose hips produce pale, yellow-cream colored dyes

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Reseda luteola

dyer's mignonette

Pigment: luteolin


An annual or biennial plant, native to Britain, Europe, and the Mediterranean. The dye is produced in the leaves. Wild mignonette, Reseda lutea, gives similar but weaker colors.


The Greek writer Dioscorides, in the 1st century a.d., lists weld as a dyeplant. The Romans used weld to dye wedding garments and the robes of the Vestal Virgins. The Persians used weld dye.

In the Middle Ages, weld was grown as a dyeplant throughout Europe and Britain. Rosetti, writing in Italy, probably in 1548, includes recipes for yellow dye, and for a green dye on linen using weld and verdigris.

Weld continued in use until the 19th century when "old" fustic and quercitron became more economical yellow dyes.


Weld has the reputation of not being a very concentrated dye (compared to fustic or quercitron), but it is more concentrated than many dye flowers.

Weld works best with a slightly alkaline dyebath.

Keep the bath well stirred because the pigment tends to settle to bottom of pot.

Do not boil the dyebath, as boiling may make the yellows turn brownish.

Weld gives lemon yellow on wool and silk with alum mordant, greenish yellow with copper, and olive with iron. The colors are lightfast. There are mixed reports on how successfully weld dyes cotton.


Use dried leaves, equal to 1/2 the weight of fabric.

Crumble the leaves and soak in warm water 6 hours.

Add a pinch of washing soda and the fibers. Simmer fibers 1 hour.

                           wool & silk                cotton & linen

alum:                   yellow                        yellowish brown

alum & copper:   yellow                        yellowish brown

copper:               brownish green           yellow

iron:                    dark greenish brown   brown

Weld was described by the Greek herbalist Dioscorides as a classic yellow dye-plant. In the first century AD, the Roman historian Pliny said that weld was used exclusively for colouring women's garments. The use of other yellow dyes was discouraged in the thirteenth century, partly because it was thought to impart a permanent colour. In medieval times Jewish men were compelled to wear yellow caps through much of Europe, these were dyed with weld. Weld was used to make blue cloth green and when added to madder could produce an orange dye. It was used as a dye for cotton, silk, linen and woollen fabrics as well as calico-printers, colour-makers and wallpaper manufacturers. Gradually, the use of weld was superseded by use of black oak (Quercus velutina Lam.) from North America, which weight or weight produced a stronger yellow. Dyeing cloth first with weld (yellow) and then woad (blue) produced green, but boiling fabrics in a solution with verdigris and alum could also produce a green.

Medieval Dyeing: Yellow

Yellow is one of the easiest colours to acheive using natural dyes and many plants give some shade of yellow from brassy gold to pale canary.

Flower yellow (marigold or coreopsis)Onion Skins

One of the easiest dyes is from onion skins. It gives a brassy yellow gold colour to mid tans, however its not particularly lightfast and the gold will fade to a mid yellow. These are the notes from my first dyeing experiment.

  • 5 skeins of spun perendale wool white and grey - total weight 280 gms
  • 85 gms onion skins
  • 28 gms alum
  • 15 gms tartaric acid (cream of tartar)

Make the dye liquor

Cover onion skins with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 50 minutes - strain off liquid and retain - throw away wet skins.

Onion TanMordant the fibre

  • Add all skeins to a pot or basin of warm (not hot) water so that the water gets right through them
  • Add alum and tartaric acid to warm water in a small pot and heat until dissolved
  • Add mordant to large pot of cold water - add the wet skeins and bring pot to the simmer
  • Simmer for 45 minutes. Leave skeins in the pot

Dye the fibre

  • Add the skeins of wool to the dyepot and add more water until the wool can move easily in the pot.
  • Simmer for 45 minutes and then leave in the dyepot until its cool.
  • When cool wash the skeins in wool wash until it rinses clean.

Rainbow of colours

Reseda luteola
This Mediterranean herb is the oldest yellow dye plant in the world. It is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as rikhpah and still grows in Israel. The Romans dyed the robes of the Vestal Virgins and wedding clothing with this magick herb. It was a favored dye in Persia in the Dark Ages and widely use in Europe as a dye in the Middle Ages. Weld is a more concentrated yellow dye than most dye flowers but was superseded by tropical dye plants after the European invasion of the New World. The leaves have the most intense dye, but the whole plant (except roots) contains dye. It is especially nice on wool, but can dye cotton or silk as well. With an alum mordant, weld makes lightfast lemon yellow on wool and silk, with copper it makes greenish yellow, with iron it makes olive. Combined with woad, weld makes green (usually the woad is done first); this is called Lincoln Green and was the color of the clothing of Robin Hood's men. It is also the basis of Saxon green, which is weld over Saxon blue (a light blue created by indigo dye treated with sulphuric acid [oil of vitriol]). Weld dyed the clothes of the common people in Great Britain but the silks of wealthy Vikings (this dyed silk was imported, though). Top

Dyeing with Weld. Six to seven first-year rosettes or two second-year blooming plants will dye a pound of wool and can be used fresh or dried. Chop the plant. If using dried leaves, crumble and soak in warm water for six hours before using. Simmer, don't boil, for one hour, and strain out the herb. Add some washing soda to make the dye bath alkaline, then add wet fiber to the bath and simmer for an hour. Keep stirring, because this dye tends to sink to the bottom of the pot. Don't boil, or it will turn brown. You can also use dried leaves equal to 1/2 the weight of fabric as a measurement. Top

Other Uses. An excellent magickal ink can be made by macerating weld in alcohol; this makes a yellow ink good for drawing amulets and talismans for protection and offensive magick. Or consider dyeing ritual clothing with weld for use in magickal protectiong or ritual attack. Along with other natural dyes like indigo, cochineal, and madder, weld was turned into a "lake" (by precipitating it onto an opaque substance, like chalk) and used in painting and in medieval manuscript illumination as a substitute for the poisonous orpiment and to signify gold. It grew wild in southern England but farther north might well have been found in cottage gardens growing against south-facing walls. It is certainly a candidate for medieval gardens and was grown in North American colonial gardens. In Britain it was used, rarely, as a poultice on wounds and bites of snakes or stings of insects, which implies a Mars nature, despite the fact that it lacks thorns. Indeed, it is hot and drying to the third degree, according to Gerard (apparently the root tastes like a radish). It was not much used medicinally because of its heat but was recommended against the plague, which to me says it was probably a last resort type herb. Weld flowers attract bees and butterflies, and cattle, goats, sheep, and donkeys like to eat it. Weld is also known as wold, dyer's weed, green weed, dyer's broom, mahabbet chichegi, muhabbetcicegi, pastel sauvage, thail ath thikh, wouw, dyer's rocket, yellow weed, wild mignonette, Lus Buidhe Mòr, and dyer's mignonette. Top

How to grow weld: If you have a short season, start plants indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost. Surface sow - seeds need light to germinate in 7-14 days at room temperature. Otherwise, plant outside in early spring, barely covering the seeds. Weld is a biennial in zones 5-9; elsewhere, grow it as an annual (it won't flower). It forms a rosette the first year and in the 2nd spring shoots up a stalk to 5 ft/1.5m but more normally up to 3ft/1m. It flowers June-August and ripens seeds August-September. Weld likes dryish, chalky soil (it's often found growing around limestone quarries, gravelly banks, stony roadsides--planting around walls would duplicate this) but it can grow in any kind of soil. Plant in full sun up north and partial shade in the South. This plant shows its aggressive Martial nature by reseeding all over the place if you don't watch it.Reseda luteola


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