Small Measures: Naturally Dyed Eggs


I think I was about 5 years old the first time I attended the Easter Egg hunt held on the grounds of the White House. While I don’t recall all of the specifics, I do remember with clarity that there was a line to get in that wrapped nearly all the way around the property gates, there were many giddy, excited children dressed in adorable dresses and suits, and there were loads of eggs scattered and hidden about, just waiting to be scooped up by expectant, happy hands.

I’m deep in the throes of planning an Easter Egg gathering of my own. While, clearly, it won’t be as grandiose as that held at the White House, it will, I think, be just as fun, just as festive, and just as memorable as those hunts from my youth. And it will involve a good amount of dyed eggs.

Since I’m a gal that tends towards the natural in most things, the eggs we’ll be festooning our fields and forests and feasting table with will be dyed using natural elements. It’s really quite easy to do, and can often be achieved with foods you may very well already have in your fridge or pantry. However you celebrate the arrival of spring, from Easter to Passover to Beltane, naturally dyed eggs help enliven and enrich the setting. Happy Spring! -Ashley English

The Goods:

Step inside your pantry, open your refrigerator, survey your garden, or stop by the market to pick up dye bath materials. Fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, partnered up with a bit of vinegar, provide all of your raw materials. The dye bath agents you select will be based on both what color you’d like to achieve, and how deeply you want the color to appear. The rule of thumb is to use more dye bath material and infuse longer to achieve the deepest colors. My naturally dyeing process involves both a hot stovetop boil and a room temperature infusion. Over the years I’ve found this achieves the best overall end result color, in terms of intensity.

Here’s a sampling of colors offered by dyeing agents:

Spinach=Pale Green (you can also use chlorophyll extract)

Orange marigold leaves=Pale Yellow

Turmeric=Golden Yellow

Cranberries=Pale Purple

Blueberries=Blue-Purple

Raspberries=Lavender

Pomegranates=Light Red (juice or seeds)

Beets=Pale Pink

Red Cabbage=Dark Pink/Dark Blue (a longer infusing time will create a deeper colored egg)

Coffee Grounds=Dark Brown

Onion Skins=Copper

The Deal:

1) After you’ve selected your dyeing agent(s), place it in a large pot. Add a quart of cold water and 2 tablespoons white vinegar; bring to a boil (you’ll need separate pots for each color, so you might have to do your dyeing in shifts if you want more than four colors). Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes

2) Add however many raw eggs you’d like to dye to each dye bath. Boil for 30 minutes.

3) During this time, use a wooden spoon or spatula to periodically turn the eggs over so as to help the dye adhere to all sides of the egg. You can drain off the dyeing agents before you simmer the eggs, but be aware that the dye colors won’t be as intense. On the other hand, boiling the eggs and dyeing agents together can create a mottled, rough texture and appearance on the egg’s surface. I enjoy that aspect of the end product, but if you think you won’t, then you may want to drain off the solids first.

4) Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the eggs to glass jars, using one jar for each color. Strain off the dye bath solids and pour the infused liquid into each jar. Cover with lids and allow to infuse at room temperature overnight.

5) Remove the eggs from the dye bath. Blot gently with a paper towel or cloth. If you’d like them shiny, buff them up with a little bit of olive or vegetable oil.

What about you? Have any naturally dyed egg tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them. The colors produced this way are so, so beautiful. Eggs, botanicals, edibles-it all adds up to a good way to dye!

*Images and styling by Jen Altman.

otto

looks great! are #2 and #3 of your instructions mixed up?

Hollie

I think I may have missed it, do we add the eggs straight to the pot of dying materials? I would have totally thought this dying process would have been much more tedious. Thanks for posting!

Trig

We used to dye our eggs by wrapping them in onion skins, securing with elastics, and letting them boil for a bit. Gave a sort of mottled brown-coppery colour with neat swirls and patterns.

Nadine

What a great idea. I am definitely going to try this at the weekend. Do the eggs taste a bit like whatever was used to dye them or do they just get the colour?

Sandra

With such a long boiling/simmering time (30 minutes), do these eggs still TASTE good later? Or would you recommend doing these eggs mostly just for looks? They’re gorgeous…but I do like to eat my hardboiled or deviled eggs!

Midsommarflicka

I remember my grandma made this with me, when I was little. We used onion skin and beets. And after dyeing we rubbed the eggs with some bacon, so they got a shine!

Love, Midsommarflicka

Ashley English

nadine-not too much, surprisingly. the turmeric dyed eggs do have a bit of a turmeric flavor, though, as egg shells are porous.

sandra-absolutely. they’re quite hard-boiled, but are completely fine to eat. my two year-old son had a blast choosing which colored egg to have as a snack!

Kim

I love the way these natural colors look! I’ll have to try this out this year!

Andrew

OH now this is wonderful! And much prettier / better than the neon array imported dye kits. Especially impressed by the blueberry, it’s a nice deep blue!

Emily

Oooh, I just did this with a combination of beets and red cabbage which produced the most lovely shades of robin’s egg blue and soft indigo.
I stuck some linen squares in there as well to make some napkins to match the dyed eggs.
I can’t wait to try all of the other colors, whoop-whoop! :D

Heather

Oooh my goodness these colors are fantastic! I’ve always hated the obnoxious fluorescent colors you buy from the store. These are gorgeous!

Elisa

These are breathtaking! I love the color and texture of each egg, they look almost like velvet. This totally beats Pees’ egg kits!

Nomadic D.

Those are the most beautiful easter eggs I’ve ever seen! What a lovely idea, and the resulting muted color palette is just stunning!

Barbara

I have always dyed eggs in onion skins since childhood. It has always been enough to boil eggs until they were golden brown, I’ve never had too keep them in the dye overnight. Perhaps if you choose dark onions then it’s not necessary. I can’t wait to try new colours this year.

Christine

Growing up my mom always made onion skin eggs and last year I tried making the red cabbage ones for the first time. They turned out a really beautiful robin’s egg blue. I usually place leaves or flowers on the eggs and secure them with pantyhose before boiling them in the dye to make botanical impressions on the eggs. Here are my eggs from last year.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/krakencrafts/6926085188/

Amy

My Mum was just telling me about how she used to do this when she was a kid!

Nathan Copeland

This is a great idea!! My neices are coming into to town next week for Easter, I can’t wait to do this with them!! Thank you for sharing this!!

Janice Brotherton

My Mom always puts a fern leaf or some other type of leaf on the egg and then you tie a nylon tightly around the egg and then you put it in the bath. When you remove the leaf it is still the natural color of the egg, they are very pretty!

Beatrice

I’m Lithuanian and I’ve grown up dying eggs with onion skins and beets. They turn out wonderful if you do it right. One extra step that we have always done us to place little leaves and flowers (dill, cilantro, lanes and flyers from outside) on the egg. You encase the eh with the onion skins, wrap it all up with string. Then you bill them in the manner you do. The leaves and flowers will leave an imprint on the egg.if you do it right, you’ll be able to tell what was there. Otherwise it’ll looked mottled, which still good.

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