Purging Buckthorn (Rhamnus catharticus) is a woodland edge species that grows in limestone areas.  In the Yorkshire Dales there are only a handful of mature shrubs and they are not good at natural regeneration.  Thus, a few years ago, a small group decided to engage on a propagation project.

“Germination was hugely successful and we now have hundreds of plants of varying ages to plant out over the next two years and increase the biodiversity of this area” writes Melanie Fryer – a member of the group and an active member of FoodFutures sustainable food network in North Lancashire.

“Purging Buckthorn is the larval food plant for the beautiful Brimstone butterfly. It is also an amazing shrub for natural dyes”.

Sewing Cafe Lancaster’s (SCL) Natural dyes group has a living collection of plants at Claver Hill, and recently extracted the seed from this year’s purging buckthorn crop (shared by Melanie) and used the pulp and skins to create a dye.

“It turned out to be a most intriguing dye” commented Katrina, a member of Sewing Cafe Lancaster.

“Firstly the extracted liquid and pulp from the berries appeared a very deep purple and it was exciting to see such a vivid green appear on the wool samples and the silk turning to a dusty gold colour. The cottons showed the greatest range of shades from deep blue/grey through to pale green/yellow, depending on the strength of the dye bath. Although some lovely shades were produced, there was no hint of the bright yellow SCL hoped for”.

“Purging Buckthorn requires alkaline conditions to thrive, so it seemed possible that different results might be achieved in the dye bath if bicarbonate of soda were added to increase the alkalinity. A quick experiment confirmed this and the dye bath was adjusted resulting in a bright yellow being produced on cotton and wool”.

A small amount of vinegar was added to the jar on the left and shows a slightly more pink shade. The centre jar is the original dye made from Lancaster water which is pH neutral.
The jar on the right included added Bicarbonate of soda to increase the alkalinity.
The bark from Purging Buckthorn can also be used as a dye. It can be dried out and made into another dye bath in the future.
SCL whittled the bark off the stems and soaked it overnight. The results of the first extraction showed a range of beige and pale pinks.
SCL is now very excited about the opportunity to grow their own Buckthorn within their dye garden at Claver Hill, and the possibility of using this amazing pigment in their future projects.
The group in the Dales are now looking to propagate Wild Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) and Spindle (Euonymus europaeus), both of which can be used for dyes.

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