Yesterday I received an email from a lady who had been clearing goose grass or cleavers (Galium aparine) from her garden and had collected three barrow-loads of these plants. She had heard that they give a red dye and wondered if this was true and, if so, how to go about dyeing with them.
I’m afraid my advice to her was to put the goose grass on her compost heap and concentrate on growing a true red dye, such as madder. Goose grass or cleavers is in the madder family and I, too, have read that it should be possible to extract a red dye from the roots. The roots in question are not the thin roots one tends to pull up when weeding but, rather, the thicker roots which are much deeper in the ground. However, I have never managed to extract a red dye from the roots of goose grass, nor have I ever met anyone who has done so and was able to show me the results. Of course, these successful dyers may exist but sadly I am not among them. I suspect that the red dye from goose grass is another of those “facts” found in the natural dyeing literature, which are based on theory rather than on proof by experiment. Another such “fact” is that a purple dye can supposedly be extracted from the roots of the dandelion. I have never achieved this dye colour, nor come across anyone who has. I’d love to hear from anyone who has been successful with either red from goose grass or purple from dandelion root.