poetry and prose about place

harvesting colour – berries of Daphne

with 4 comments

With the help of a friend, I have been able to add Daphne berries to my growing list of plant dye experiments.  She invited me to harvest some of the berries from her Daphne bushes, before the birds ate them all.  We spent an hour picking berries and catching up with one another.  I went home with enough berries for my dye pot and some of her excellent photos of the Daphne berries.


red berries on the bush (photo by L. Cogswell)

red berries on the bush (photo by L. Cogswell)


closeup of Daphne berries (photo by L. Cogswell)

close-up of Daphne berries (photo by L. Cogswell)


Daphne’s beautiful crimson berries are poisonous, although the birds love to eat them.  I was anxious to see what colour they would bring to my growing collection of home-dyed wool.  I know from reading that the leaves and twigs of Daphne produce a yellow dye.


In the dye-vat, the berries quickly lost their colour to the boiling water, making a pale rose-coloured dye.




And the colour of the wool roving after an hour’s simmer in the pot?  A lovely yellowish brown …





pretty side of poison


exotic, elliptic

berries among laurel

leaves droop vermillion

toxic pills, birds immune


spirit of bubbling wells

and water-springs, Daphne

drupes in rainwater seethe

and berries leach rosy


waters blush at this strange

use of poison, tint the

roving, wool lifts yellow

brown dye from the kettle




scarlet Daphne berries


Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

August 22, 2014 at 6:58 am

4 Responses

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  1. When I saw the picture of the berries, I was sure that you’d get a lovely red or pink dye. Until I read this post, I was not familiar with Daphne berries–and after reading it, I don’t think that I’ll look for them.



    August 24, 2014 at 12:54 am

    • Hi. The poisonous berries make me stop and think. I worry about where to discard the dye water, also about handling the dyed wool during spinning. It is our history and all the experiences of our ancestors that mean we don’t have to worry about everything we touch!!! Jane


      jane tims

      August 26, 2014 at 12:05 pm

  2. Beautiful poem, Jane. The berries are so pretty even though that red is a warning to us human inhabitants.

    I was soaking black beans for dinner the other night and noticed that the soaking water turned blue. It made me think of you. I also wondered if it would work as blue dye so I looked it up, and found that yes, it will. It’s a beautiful shade of blue, too.



    August 22, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    • Guess who’s away to buy some black beans!!! Thanks for the tip. I am getting tired of all the brown. Jane


      jane tims

      August 26, 2014 at 12:03 pm

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