Dye Plants

On this page we are assembling materials for potential curricular materials relating to dye plants, or plants that were used to dye materials for the creation of textiles. Many of the plants are native to the Americas, and the technology for creating the dyes has usually been developed locally. Besides plants, dyes were made from animals and minerals, too.

Colorants could include dyes (soluable in water) and pigments (insoluable in water).


This dye, which derives from an animal source, is discussed elsewhere, under ethnozoology.

Here is a list from Brand Ambassador Jennie Powell that contains Nestle products that have the cochineal dye.

Indigo (Añil in Spanish, indigofera tinctoria in Latin)

This blue dye comes from a local plant (also found in other parts of the world). The earliest origin of the plant is not known.

  • Video, “Tres Colores: Indigo, Cochineal, Caracol” on YouTube, in Spanish, 3 minutes 11 seconds
  • Indigo can be obtained without mordants or chemicals by mixing the leaves with fermented urine, explained by Jocelyn Morera (worth visiting, despite spelling errors).
  • Maya Blue” is a rare and wonderful shade of blue that puzzled scientists for decades, as they tried to determine its origin, now known to be a combination of indigo and a local clay (palygorskite).

Achiote (from achiotl, in Nahuatl; bixe orellana in Latin)

This dye is from a tropical shrub or small tree found in the Americas.  It also grows elsewhere in the world. The pigment from the seeds of the inedible fruit of this plant is often called annatto. It colors foods, and it is used to dye lips red. In extracts it has an antimicrobial value.  See this Wikipedia article on bixa orellana.

General Resources