What makes a plant a dye plant? Part 1 Flavonoids.

Bijgewerkt: jan 17

what makes a plant a dye plant

All plant materials contain a mix of different phytochemicals. I am not going to re-invent the wheel and I will quote Wikipedia on the definition of this word:

Phytochemicals are chemicals of plant origin. Phytochemicals (from Greek phyto, meaning "plant") are chemicals produced by plants through primary or secondary metabolism. They generally have biological activity in the plant host and play a role in plant growth or defense against competitors, pathogens, or predators.

Part of these phytochemicals also give color, and only a part of these colors are the stable, light- and wash fast pigments we use in natural dyeing.

It is important to understand these different pigment groups, so we can anticipate if a plant material will dye, why it dyes and how stable this dye will be. In this article we discuss the first group; Flavonoids


There are over 5000 naturally occurring flavonoids that have been characterized from various plants. They are classified according to their chemical structure, and are divided into subgroups, each subgroup has their little list of flavonoids. I have put together the ones you would be looking for (or should be avoiding) that have relevance to color when dyeing.

red cabbage

One major group of flavonoids are Anthocyanidins and Anthocyanins

These common reds and oranges of nature are the dyestuffs we prefer to avoid. They are fugitive colorants with poor color fastness and low chemical and thermal stability. They change in appearance over time when exposed to light, temperature and humidity. We can find these pigments for example in petunia’s, red cabbage, black beans.

Specific names of these phytopigments are;









Anthoxantins are divided into Flavones and Flavonols

These pigments are generally whiter in an acid medium and yellowed in a ph neutral or alkaline medium. This is the reason we add a bit of chalk to the dye bath. (See this blog for a comparison with and without chalk) You can also use a pinch of soda ash.

Flavones and flavonols always need a mordant salt like alum to connect themselves permanently to the textile.

I only list those most important to dyers.

Luteolin (Weld, mullein, onion skins, henna)

Apigenin (Chamomile)

Rhamnetin (Buckthorn bark and berries)

Quercetin (Oak, eucalyptus, onion skins, St. John's-wort)

Kaempferol (Mullein, sage, tea, onion skins)

Fisetin (persimmons, quebracho)

Fustin (Fustic)

Rhamnazin (Rhamnus bark, Buckthorn berries)

Rutin (Eucalyptus, Buckwheat, Tobacco plants, Prunus, Elderberry leaf, Sorrel leaf, Rhubarb roots)

Morin (Osage Orange, Old Fustic

genista tinctoria


Genistein and Daidzein (Genista Tinctoria, Lupin, Tobacco)

tea leaves


This group of flavonoids is also very rich in tannins. The tannins assist in fastness of these dyes. In order to 'catch' the flavans in these dyes you must mordant the fabric with alum and the dye bath should be heated. You will see a clear difference between cutch on unmordanted and on mordanted fabric. The result on alum mordanted fabric being much more golden brown.

Catechin (Cutch)

Gallocatechin (Cutch, Green tea)

Theaflavin (oxidation products of catechins, like fermented tea)

In further installments of this blog series I will discuss other phytochemical groups such as Naphtoquinones, Caretonoids and Anthraquinones.

Studied articles;

A Research on the Colors Obtained From Sage (Salvia Officinalis L.) and Their Fastness Values

Filiz Nurhan ÖLMEZ

Nuran KAYABAŞI Common mullein, pharmacological and chemical aspects

Muhammad Riaza MuhammadZia-Ul-HaqbHawa Z.E.Jaafarc

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) - a study of the composition, antioxidant and antimicrobial activities of extracts obtained with supercritical carbon dioxide

Aziza Kamal GenenaI; Haiko HenseI, Artur Smânia JuniorII; Simone Machado de SouzaII

The chemical composition of silver birch (Betula pendula Roth.) wood in Poland depending on forest stand location and forest habitat type

Hubert Lachowicz, Hanna Wróblewska, Magdalena Sajdak, Magdalena Komorowicz & Rafał Wojtan

Comparative Analysis of Leaf Trichome Structure and Composition of Epicuticular Flavonoids in Finnish Birch Species


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