Plant wonders: Undying Dye

Midsummer is approaching quickly. Latvians have long explored meadows and their treasures not only for edible plants but also for aesthetic pleasure. Botanist Agnese Priede and Latvian Radio reveals the secrets of the bedstraw.

In Latvia, there are three species of bedstraw, of which two are very common: the northern bedstraw (Galium boreale) and the white bedstraw (Galium album). They are similar to the eye - however, the northern species has four petals, whereas the white bedstraw carries 10 and more.

Around Midsummer, the yellow bedstraw or lady's bedstraw (Galium verum) is also abloom. It is rarer - if you find it, it means the meadow is of high biological value.

These bedstraw are commonly used for Midsummer crowns and  decoration. All bedstraw can be consumed in teas and is great for health, however, the botanist says the taste is not too pleasant.

What  few know nowadays is that the yellow bedstraw has traditionally been used for dyeing. Extraction from the root would produce yellow dye for thread and fabrics. Using a mordant, or dye fixative, depending on its acidity, one can transform the color to green or red.

In Latvian, the bedstraw is called madara and an archaic word for dyeing fabric is madarošana, derived from the plant; one can still try and use this method instead of chemicals to produce bright and beautiful hues.

 

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