Common Plants Native Indians Made Dyes From

Natural Dyes

Dyes from plant sources have been used for thousands of years to create pigments for paints, colors for clothing and fabric, stains or even for makeup.  In fact, the majority of colors found almost anywhere came from some kind of natural source.  Native Indians were particularly adept at using colors in a variety of ways, and they had extensive knowledge about how to extract material from plants, combine them together, and create colors that we commonly see around us every day.

Dyeing isn’t something that comes up a lot in prepper circles, but it’s a skill that can produce a variety of benefits in a survival situation.  Fortunately, making dyes isn’t rocket science, and you don’t need a lot of material or resources to extract colors from plants.  There are plenty of tutorials out there that you can follow to learn the basics, and they’re definitely worth exploring.  However, for purposes of this discussion, let’s focus on identifying a few, common plants that can be used to produce a variety of colors.

Red Dyes

One of the best plants to get red dyes from is the bloodroot, a white flower with a yellow hump in the center, and it can be found throughout the Eastern United States and Canada.  However, you can extract reddish dyes from a variety of other sources as well.  Beetroot, Canadian hemlock, cranapple bark or elderberries are just a few alternatives to consider.

Browns, Oranges and Yellows

The mountain alder is a small tree found near rivers and streams throughout Canada and most of the United States with the exception of the South.  Various parts of the tree can be processed to make orange-based colors that include various shades of brown and yellow.  For example, the inner bark can  be used to make a yellow dye whereas the outer bark could produce a brownish color perfect for staining.  The dye could also be mixed with dirt to create blacker colors as well.

Black Dye

The butternut tree is found throughout the Eastern United States.  You can process the roots to make black dyes, and the bark will give you a brownish color.  You can also mix some iron powder in with the bark in order to create various shades of gray.   

Blue Dye

Blues are the hardest colors to extract because only a few species of plants around the world produce these pigments.  The Mayo indigo, which is found in the desert Southwest, is your best choice, and it has been used for centuries until synthetic variants were created not too long ago.


More plant species in the United States produce green than any other color.  Goldenrod, butterfly milkweed, stinging nettle, sagebrush and basketflower are just a few to consider.  The canaigre dock, also found in the desert Southwest, produces a nice green in addition to grays and yellows as well.

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to extract a white dye from plants.  However, you can easily get the pigment from scraping some chalky rocks and collecting the powder.

Remember that you can experiment with pigments from these, and dozens of other species, in order to create an unlimited range of colors.  The trick is to know how to identify the right plants and process them correctly in order to extract the pigments.  Take some time to learn more about dyeing, and how it can benefit you in the field.  Chances are that it won’t take long before you see some value in developing this skill.

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