Foraging

How it feels

Foraging for dye plants is like panning for gold. In old American western films you will often see a gold prospector, swishing water and gravel around a shallow metal basin. He concentrates intently on his search, until suddenly his eyes widen and he becomes very excited. He has found GOLD! Well foraging is a bit like that; to find exactly what I am searching for is just marvellous.

Ideal conditions

Plants that give colour include the latin word tinctoria in the name, meaning that the plant yields colour eg. Indigofera Tinctoria, yields the colour blue. It grows in the tropics and requires full sun with a temperature of 22-28 degreesC for 4-5 months. The indigo plant can be invasive in the perfect conditions. I am not going to find any in the Sussex countryside. Neither will I find madder (red dye) or woad (blue dye) despite being used for the Bayeux Tapestry, (which was actually an embroidery). I cultivate madder and woad in my garden. They have been successful, as long as the weather is kind. Some plants require the right amount of shade and it is likely that they will only be right for harvesting at a particular time of year. Each colour giving plant is different from another as to their optimum growing requirements. I may see a patch of greenery, recognise it, decide that it will give me green colour but realise that it will be mature enough in one week only to find 7 days later that it has been strimmed!

Company Whilst Foraging

The aim of my countryside foraging walks is not only to collect dye plants but to collect them in amounts that nobody will miss. I hunt for dock, nettles, lichen and more. I used to enjoy foraging in the countryside with my faithful dog, who sadly is no longer with us. A friend said she would come foraging to keep me company instead. I told her that we were waiting for our puppy to arrive so she would not be ‘helping’ me for a few months. My friend thought that our outing in the countryside would be a good time for a chat. It didn’t work out quite how she envisaged because as soon as I saw a likely leaf, I was heading in another direction, whilst she was thinking I could still hear her chatting. Despite arming her with gloves, foraging bag and pertinent information, she was not concentrating on the job in hand. We returned home with few leaves and many questions about when puppy would be old enough to accompany me foraging ha ha ha.

British wool naturally dyed with nettles by Paton and Daughter
I am sure puppy will be a patient forager, in time.

Plants that give us colour require certain soilds, the right amount of sun or shade and are Plan

It is easier to grow dye plants in the garden, however not everybody sees these ‘weeds’ as gems. Nettles for instance take up a lot of space but do encourage butterflies. Not many dye plants are deemed attractive enough to deserve a place in a flower garden and so a designated section needs to be kept as a dyer’s bed.

I am so pleased that you have joined me in this space.

Until next time, I’ll be here if you’ll be there.

Forage

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