Autumn Harvest

by Kerstin Zurbrigg

We are taking a seasonal approach to working with plant and mineral pigments as a dye source by harvesting towards working with three or four locally growing plants.


This season we chose to work with fruit, seed, blossom and beyond in an exploration of late September, early October gleaned Goldenrod, Black Walnut, acorns and Pokeweed.  Our intention was to gather from plants in our own immediate areas and to bring them together for a small community dye experience.  We hope to grow on these meetings in future and to inspire each other to share our experiences of working with the plants and minerals in our fibershed.

It is now mid-October and after a seemingly long drawn out summer we find ourselves turning into the fall season rather quickly.  Looking at the landscape in our city, suburban and rural spaces one can’t help noticing how rich our resources are for working with plant dyes–the possibilities are endless though the season determines so many of the factors which influence our choices.  We began collecting for our dye pots in late September and met when notable fall patterns were setting in–cooler nights, fewer blooming plants and berries, shorter days and plethora of fallen acorns and nuts.   

Black Walnuts on the branch 

fallen acorns (gather cap alone or cap and nut may be gathered)

Late fall and poke berries are still on the stem.  Harvest with wildlife in mind!

Goldenrod blooms


Here are a few guidelines for preparation for fall plant dyeing and the steps we took in preparing to work together.

*Gather pokeberries, freeze or use immediately.  There is no need to separate stem and berry.  (Note: if you do freeze your berries make sure to mark things well as the berries are not edible!)

*Collect fallen acorns, both caps and nuts can be used for dyes and inks.  Consider using the acorn caps alone as the nuts are an important food source for the local wildlife.

*Harvest Goldenrod (mostly blooms, some smaller leaf matter).  Goldenrod gathered in the early stages of budding to blooming to be dried for use.

 Note: dried Goldenrod will lose a little brilliance over time or if harvested in mature stages

*Pick Black Walnuts before they fall or you may also harvest fallen hulls although they will carry more grubs and larvae.  Separate the hull from the nut and either give the nuts to the squirrels or enjoy them yourself.  The hulls can be used straight away or dried for future use as a dye stuff or to make a rich drawing ink.  

In general it is a good idea to spread your harvested plant material on an outdoor table or porch before processing to allow insects time to find new homes.  In all of our collecting, we were mindful of the amount of our harvest both in thinking about both how the plants sustain their continued growth, but also in relation to the nourishment they provide for the wildlife in our backyards, empty lots and meadow spaces.  

October Goldenrod Dye Pot Notes and Reflections


November Pokeweed Dye Pot Notes and Reflections

December Black Walnut Reflections and Dye Pot Notes


January Meeting Oak