Plants for Dyeing: Queen Anne’s Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace (aka wild carrot) grows abundantly all over the place here in southern New England. This has become one of my favorite dye sources for use during the month of August. Easy to find in large quantities, I depend upon this wild flower for its ability to yield, of all colors, chartreuse! Using alum for mordant, wool, and local water, year after year I have produced nearly identical shades of truly vivid yellow-greens. They tend to be reasonably colorfast, as well as reliable. The carroty aroma that arises during the dye process is also a plus. Try using about 1/2 a paper grocery bag full of flower heads per 1/2 pound of wool. A pinch or two of alum, or the use of an aluminum pot, should do the trick.

There is some interesting folklore attached to this prolific plant. Queen Anne, wife of James I of England, was an avid lace maker, and is the namesake of the flower. The tiny purple dot in the center represents a spot of blood caused by a needle prick to the queen’s finger, and this tiny sliver of color was thought to cure epilepsy. Black swallowtail butterflies flock to them like cats to catnip. Farmers consider it an invasive weed, and the milk from animals that graze upon it is supposed to taste a bit bitter and carroty. The plant is also called bee’s nest, bird’s nest, crow’s nest, and devil’s plague (seems a bit harsh!). The carrots that we eat today are believed to be derived from this wild variety, and to revert to it when not tended or cultivated. Queen Anne’s Lace roots have also been used as a coffee substitute, like chicory.

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