In the Texas Hill Country, May is the loveliest month. This May is one to remember: the blooming, buzzing bounty, I’m sure, of our rainy December. Remember? April showers bring . . . Here, it’s October-November-December showers that bring May flowers, and for the past few weeks, we’ve been surrounded by them. The coreopsis–the cheerful yellow blossoms you see here, filling a quiet corner we call Meadow Marsh–brighten my path to the chicken coop.
But Coreopsis tinctoria (as you might guess from its Latin binomial) isn’t just pretty to look at. It’s also a great dye plant. It can create a vibrant yellow-orange on wool, cotton, or linen–with a mordant (a fixative, like alum) or without.
I like to use the herbs I write about, and when I was working on Indigo Dying (China Bayles #11), I did some dyeing with coreopsis. I picked the flowers, dried them in a dehydrator, and made a yellow dye. There’s a University of Florida tutorial here that outlines the dyeing process, so I won’t go into the details. It’s easy to do and would be a great craft project for your kids and grandkids. You’d like to try it but don’t have access to the flowers? No worries. Dried flowers (like everything else under the sun) are available on the internet.
Coreopsis dye was used for the two small yellow test skeins in this photo, top right and left. The orange skein in the top center was dyed with Osage orange. See that tree on the left in the Meadow Marsh photo above? That’s Osage orange. Its grapefruit-size fruits–enjoyed by our resident deer and wild turkeys–litter the ground in the fall.
Like many other plants we grow and appreciate for their beauty, coreopsis was used medicinally by Native Americans, who brewed a tea of the roots to ease stomach ailments and “strengthen the blood.” Recent scientific research has confirmed the plant’s traditional uses in anti-infection and treatment of chronic metabolic disease.
All that, from a pretty little yellow flower. The world is full of marvels.
On the writing desk. In an upcoming issue of “All About Thyme,” I’m expecting to interview Marta McDowell, the editor of a wonderful full-color facsimile edition of Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal, just published by Abbeville Press. You may remember that Blackwell’s Herbal (published 1735-37) served as the backstory of Hemlock (China #28). Marta has some fascinating new information about Elizabeth that I’m looking forward to sharing. (If you’re not a subscriber to “All About Thyme,” you can remedy that below.) Look for it in the June issue if we get it together in time; if not. July.
I’m currently working on Forget Me Never (China Bayles #29) and thinking about another in the Dahlias series. I’ve promised myself to blog more regularly this summer, so you might be hearing from me a little more often. In the meantime, go outdoors and linger among the flowers.
Reading note. If the poem is thin, it is likely so not because the poet does not know enough words, but because he or she has not stood long enough among the flowers.–Mary Oliver
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