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  • Writer's pictureAndrea Liu

Summer Colours in Mason Jars

Left to Right: Acorns, Goldenrod stems and leaves, Goldenrod flowers,

Fleabane flowers, Dandelion, Tickseed Sunflowers, Black-eyed Susans,

Queen Anne's Lace, New England Aster

This Summer has brought about a bountiful harvest of wildflowers and weeds that grew along walking trails, lakes, pavements and parking lots. With an abundance of acorns blanketing the edge of walking trails and ubiquitous goldenrod that appear wherever you look, it's hard not to pick up or snip a little here and there of plant materials that you know will produce the most beautiful shades of brown, black, yellow and green. For the love of natural dyeing, how could one resist?

Acorns that have been rinsed

There are many large oak trees that grow around where I live. I have discovered that near the end of August and mainly in the month of September, you will find grey squirrels and black squirrels hopping to and fro, climbing up and down, and digging through soft soil; they are incredibly busy mazing through the neighbourhood. If you look hard enough, these squirrels leave behind acorn caps and sometimes one or two tiny acorns in areas where they have dug on lawns and back gardens.

Taking cue from the squirrels, throughout September I began to set a goal of collecting a Ziplock bag full of fallen acorns each time I had the chance to walk around a particular lake that is home to a large family of oak trees, and is also conveniently located closest to home. You will be surprised to learn that the best time to collect acorns is the day after a rainy day. When the clouds have dried their tears and the sun's glow reappears, you will find an excessive amount of fresh, plump acorns lay scattered along the edge of walking trails. As you bend over to collect, my advice would be not to neglect the acorn caps. Thanks to our squirrel friends, there will be some days where there are more caps than acorn scattered on the ground. As you experiment with acorns as a natural dye, the cap by itself also is able to produce a rich shade of brown.

Acorns in mason jar

Every time I collect a bagful of acorns, I like to rinse the acorns in cold water to get all the dirt and dried bits of leaves off. Once the acorns are washed, make sure to set the acorns out to completely dry before you store them in mason jars or whatever jar are available in your home.

Goldenrod, Fleabane, Queen Anne's Lace, Tickseed Sunflowers

and New England Asters set out to dry

In Minnesota, the month of September can also be a great harvest time for Goldenrod and Tickseed Sunflowers. With so much available, there is a sense of pity watching certain species of plants gradually wilting away with Fall arriving. What always amazes me is how plants can be preserved through drying. When you surf online for ways of drying flowers and plant materials, there's an abundance of advice of what you should and should not do. Dry it in the sun. Don't dry it in the sun. Hang dry them. Lay them out on a screen. Yada yada. After reading a few online articles and blogs, I realised that it would be a great idea to custom build a drying rack where each shelf is a removable framed screen. On these screens, I would carefully place the wildflowers and whatever plant matter on it for a few weeks to completely dry. How great would that be? However, instead of doing that, I did the "poor man's" method of taking apart Ikea cardboard packaging and used them as drying boards.

Foraged Goldenrod, Tickseed Sunflowers and Staghorn Sumac berries

Flowers in the process of drying

For the first day or two of drying, I had the plants drying outdoors to get whatever insects still holding on released back out into nature. It roughly took 3 weeks, 4 weeks to be safe, where the plants mainly dried out in the garage. When you are able to easily snap the stems in half or gently break the flower head from its stem with your fingers, that is a pretty good sign the foraged plants are completely dry.

When it comes to storing plants into mason jars, what I like to do is separate the flower itself from the stem and leaves. No matter how subtly or distinctly different the colours are, it is common knowledge that every part of the plant has the ability to produce different colours or shades of that one colour. For example, Goldenrod flower produce the most vibrant yellow, but its stem and leaves produce a wonderful limey green shade. Also, to be extra certain that there is no chance of the plants spoiling or molding in the mason jars overtime, I like to put a small silica gel packet in each jar. How simple is that?

As you can see, vibrant colours of Summer can easily be preserved for natural dye projects during Winter. This is a great way to continue to play with Summer plant materials even when the season has passed.

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