Dyes and Medicine

September 25, 2010

A day at the California School of Herbal Studies proved to be the highlight of my late September.  It was an incredible day spent with 16  herbalists, all learning the art of natural dyes, (most of them for the first time.)

This workshop was accompanied by a powerful presentation given by Dr. Sara Gottfried.  Together, she and I collaborated to bridge the issues of health and the reality of our clothing.  Sara’s clinic, the Gottfried Center for Integrated Medicine specializes in supporting individuals to thrive and remain healthy in the face of mounting environmental challenges.  Her molecular understanding of endocrine disruptors, and the effects of heavy metals shed a new light on the reality of our well-loved clothes, particularly, our jeans.

The beauty of this workshop was that it encompassed these honest and intense global environmental truths, while simultaneously offering viable, hands-on, local, and healthy solutions.

For the students who are entering into the holistic health care profession, the class offered a new layer of understanding in regard to the health impacts of our current industrial textile system, both for the wearer of the garment, and for the planet as a whole.

For these students dye making is not a far stretch from the techniques they were already learning in their other classes.  The connection between medicine making and dye making is inextricable… the way plants are processed for color and medicine are processes that have been honed for millenia.

We made a fresh pokeberry vat, on site, during the workshop.  We harvested, and processed the berries for color and then dyed all manner of fiber samples.

Poke root is a lymphatic cleanser… the fresh spring greens were canned for food sources (they must be well cooked so as not to be toxic)…  and the color from the berries is almost too good to be true..

The Pokeberry took to the wool skeins the best…

Here is a beautiful silk sample done with coreopsis flower dye– (we made this dye during the workshop).

Another example of pokeberry and coreopsis, on wool– gorgeous!

This wool skein was dyed in coffeeberry and coreopsis.. half of the skein dyed at a time.

This rainbow effect was created with a light wash of pokeberry, sage, indigo, and coreopsis… some resist techniques were used.

Handwoven hemp samples–done in sage and madrone bark..

And here it is.. the most exciting new fall color– Madrone!!  The bark falls to the ground this time of year, and produces the most beautiful chestnut brown.

The students explored the expansive medicinal and food garden for their plant pounding processes, all these materials were sourced in the moment, in midst of our workshop.

I think this cotton shopping bag of Sara Gottfried’s sums up this workshop best. The beauty of these colors.. the smells of wafting dyes, the innovative atmosphere, the offerings of the plants.  Together these elements produced an experience like no other.  It is the reason that I keep hauling dye vats long distances to these far destinations– the reason I spend so many hours preparing materials.  It is a labor of love, a labor that gives as much as it takes.  For me it is a way of life.

Thank you Roots students!

May the colors of the plants and the medicine they offer be with you always.  The world needs what you are offering.

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3 Responses to “Dyes and Medicine”

  1. velma Says:

    and WHAT a workshop–the energy is evident.

  2. Gayle Says:

    Pokeberry is extremely poisonous. I noticed several times over the years you write as though it is something that may be consumed, once I saw that you had said it should be well cooked. Actually even in boiling it three or more times and throwing out the water after each boiling it is still poisoiness. It is written many places, but for a quick list of what happens see the toxicity section http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pokeweed if you are not familiar with what I am speaking of.

    • ecologicalartist Says:

      Pokeweed leaves- once turning red, and beyond 6-8 inches are toxic- that is correct. Commercial canning of YOUNG poke greens was prevalent throughout the south, there are still poke sallet festivals– (Harlan Kentucky still has one), because many people cook the greens annually and can them in their own kitchens. I’ve eaten poke sallet, and I have also had pokeberry conserve–seeds removed.

      The root is cautiously administered as a purgative by herbalists– in full knowledge that too much can be toxic.

      Hope this clears things up!

      Thanks for your comment


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