Natural Dye – Privet Berries

A considerate bird planted a privet bush against my fence a few years ago. This simple act created a food resource for themselves, and all their friends, who binged during many raucous bird parties, and subsequentially planted a few more. Their perfect aim created the perfect privacy barrier, as well as a new backyard resource for natural dye experiments.

Naturalized backyard natural dye resource? (Say that three times)

Yes, please and thank you.

IMG_3897 (1)
Japanese Privet

I searched through my dye books and found one reference of this dye by Ida Grae from her book Nature’s Colors (still one of my favorites). She mentioned they made green in an alum pot using tin as a mordant. I don’t mordant with tin, and decided it was time to play with these berries using alum and washing soda.


I did several dyes over a few weekends, adjusting ratios of berry to fiber (premordanted alum wool), and different levels of alkalinity in the dye bath. Each time I created different shades of green. I used a similar process for each dye bath, so let’s call it the master bath:

  • I picked and weighed berries; added them to a pot of distilled water. (I’m trying distilled instead of tap to see if it makes a clearer dye)
  • Ratio 3:1 berries to fiber worked fine. When I used a higher ratio, the color was only slightly darker.
  • Cooked the berries at low heat until soft, about an hour. I let the bath cool enough to stick gloved hands into pot to squish the berries into a pulp. (So satisfying)
  • Reheat berry-dye-mush. The dye will turn a tantalizing reddish-purple.
  • Note: I didn’t do this however, I suggest straining the berries from the dye before adding the wool.
  • After the dye reheated, I added alum mordanted skeins of wool. I let them simmer for about an hour and hoped they’d turn as purple as the dye, but alas, they never did.
  • I pulled the skeins and increased the alkalinity  of the dye, (more on that below) before adding the skeins back into the pot. This was the most awesome part, because how totally cool is this:
As soon as you dip the dyed yarn into the dye with additive. (You may also notice why I should’ve strained the dye first. )

Note: before I go into specifics, you may be wondering Why change the alkalinity and go for green if the dye-bath was purple! I hear you. No matter how many times I tried this dye without changing the alkalinity, the final result was a muddy red-gray-purple. When I made the dye bath more acidic with vinegar, all color washed out. When I used an iron premordanted skein, it turned gray.

Alkality Tests

Privet berries and Baking Soda (the mistake) – pH8

I thought I was using washing soda, like I normally do, then I looked at the label after I did the dye. This led to learning something new – and learning is always good! Baking soda will increase the alkalinity like washing soda, but you’ll need to use more of it, and the final color had a tinge more yellow, like a granny smith apple.


Privet berries and Washing Soda- pH8

This is my normal method of changing alkalinity. I repeated this dye using both “sodas” and achieved the same results.

Top Skein: with washing soda; Bottom Skein with baking soda

I ordered this fingerling yarn by mistake (75% wool/ 25% nylon). This was the same bath as the washing soda skein above- but look at this color! This is so close to teal, I’m declaring it teal.


I’m still left with this question- why aren’t these prolific berries  mentioned in my other dye books?

I did my own lightfast test and the color held up to my high standards. I haven’t tried washing it because I wash my wool projects sparingly, therefore that’s not usually an issue.

Wool dyed with privet berries

Just as I was typing this up, I found another reference to the dye but with salt – and it’s supposed to make blue??!? The experiments (and mistakes) never seem to end. Until next time.


  1. This is really interesting. We have privet hedges all around us so I will stop viewing them with disinterest!!thank you

  2. Dear you, blue – mature berries after frost, alum and iron. The unripe berries were used for dyeing green; the ripe ones were used for dyeing red especially with the addition of magnesium sulphate. There is also a method to do blue with the berries by alum and salt. The colour varies also by the ripeness of the berries. These are what wonders of dyeing. Good luck with it.

    1. I used an alum mordant and then shifted the color with washing soda. But I also think the teal shade was likely due to the type of fiber I used: that skein was 75% wool, 25% nylon. Good luck!

  3. Hi Myra!

    How do you check your dye bath PH. Strips or meter? I’m really sick if getting zombie grey instead of the nice hues everyone else posts. I control my temps and use distilled water. The one thing I don’t have a good control over is ph.

  4. I dyed blue, alum mordanted wool, no modifiers last year in May, by picking the dry berries from a hedge (can be seen somewhere on my blog, I hope). I’m retrying today to see if drying on the hegde is a necessary prerequisite for blue.

  5. Trying to get a mint green color, since that’s what my sister asked for for Christmas. I’m having some issue with getting silk to take anything but the lightest shades. Wonder if using washing soda instead of baking soda might be more effective? (Posted my results on Instagram and Tiktok)

    1. I would try washing soda instead. It’s normally what I use to make a bath alkaline. When I dyed with silk many years ago, I remember that the color tended to be lighter than wool. If possible, I’d increase the ratio of berry to fiber and soak the silk in the dye (heat off) for longer than 24 hours to see if that deepens the color. Good luck!

      1. Thanks. I realized that it might be different privet, ours is European.
        I tried both presoak and in the bath, both times I got green that was on the bluish end of green.
        I got the most blue by cooking berries in the microwave, then placing on a knitted blank, rolling it up and microwaving. Kind of grey-blue.
        Blues are so elusive. Just finished experimenting with glossy buckthorn, got blue using a somewhat complicated process.

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