nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘Comfrey

comforting Comfrey brown

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As I try using various plants as a source of dye, I am realising how many shades of brown there are !!!

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Over the weekend, I did a dye vat of Comfrey.  Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a flowering plant often found in older gardens.  It is a useful plant for gardeners … as a fertilizer, it contributes impressive amounts of nitrogen  and potassium.  As a compost component, it adds heat and moisture, and helps to speed up the composting process.  In the past, Comfrey was recommended as a tea and a medicinal.  However, the plant contains alkaloids.  Taken internally, these can cause severe damage to the liver and, in Canada, the sale of products containing Comfrey is prohibited.

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Comfrey grows in large clumps of linear leaves, up to a meter tall.  Its stately foliage provides a great backdrop for smaller plants.  Later in the season, it will produce curved clusters of bluish-purple flowers.

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Comfrey in my garden

Comfrey in my garden

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The underside of each Comfrey leaf is a maze of raised veins …

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leaves of Comfrey, showing the veins on the underside of each leaf

leaves of Comfrey, showing the veins on the underside of each leaf

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To make the dye, I added the leaves, coarsely chopped, to 6 liters of water.  I couldn’t resist throwing in my rusty square nail, to add a touch of iron to the mix …

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Comfrey leaves in water, cut up and ready for the boil

Comfrey leaves in water, cut up and ready for the boil

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After boiling for an hour, I had a pale apricot-coloured liquid …

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pale apricot colour of the Comfrey dye

pale apricot colour of the Comfrey dye

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I strained and discarded the leaves (in my compost of course) and allowed the liquid to cool.  Then I added some of my wool roving, pre-treated with alum, and simmered the wool for about an hour.

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The result was yet another shade of brown, so similar, yet so different from the browns I obtained from Alder, Old Man’s Beard lichen and Tansy …

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various dyes on wool roving (left to right): Alder bark, Old Man's Beard lichen, Comfrey, Tansy and a glimpse of Beet

various dyes on wool roving (left to right): Alder bark, Old Man’s Beard lichen, Comfrey, Tansy and a glimpse of Beet

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The Comfrey brown is a brown of the forest, without the orange or yellow undertones of the other browns I have made.  This is the brown of the wild rabbit I saw in our driveway last week.  It is the buff brown of the heads of Pine Siskins visiting our bird feeders in winter.  This brown reminds me of soft mitten wool and caterpillar cocoons.  From Comfrey comes a very comforting brown.

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Although I could use my wool roving ‘as is’ in my weaving, I have decided to spin the wool.  First, of course, I have to learn to spin.  A maple drop spindle should be waiting in my mailbox later in the week.  So many projects … good thing the days are getting longer !!!

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Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

June 11, 2014 at 7:06 am

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