Foraging & Finding Ingredients

This first stage of the Stockholm and Leyden Papyri Dye Project was a lot of fun to find and collect the ingredients for the methods that I plan on testing for this project. There were adventures and outings that I did not imagine that I would experience in order to acquire them. Here is an account of a few of my adventures.

Stockholm Recipe 113

Another (Recipe) Dyeing in purple with herbs. Take and put the wool in the juice of henbane and lupines. The juice should be brought to boiling in water, which thereby becomes sour. This is the preliminary mordant. Then take the fruit clusters of rhamus, put water in a kettle and boil. Put the wool in and it will become a good purple. Lift the wool out, rinse it with water from a forge, let it dry in the sun and it will be purple of the first quality.

Rhamnus cathartica / Common Buckthorn

Rhamnus (Common Buckthorn Berries)

The family (Rick, me, and the 2 doggos, Kaity and Lucy) went on a drive to Camrose, Alberta about 45min from home. It appeared it was almost too late in the season to get the Rhamnus berries. I was hoping that they were not all eaten or worse, fallen off the bushes. We went to the park that extends south, beyond Mirror Lake along the creek. Going from memory, we went to the area where I saw the berries a couple of years ago. But there was Zero, Zilch, Nada, None!

After an hour of searching elsewhere in the park and only finding about a ½ cup of berries, Dear Husband was done. But I couldn’t give up yet; I wanted to work on this method. I asked Rick to come and pick me up later while he went to visit his sister. 

I walked a few paths in another direction, that I had not checked earlier and, finally, I found a few bushes along a trail and got about 2 cups of berries. But this was not enough for a good amount of dyed fibre let alone just a few test swatches. So, I continued to search for an hour and a half more and came up empty. 

After scaring a rabbit in the bush and happening upon some dear that looked at me like I was crazy, I was just about to give up and call Rick to come and get me. I climbed a paved path toward the street so that I could give Rick a pin on the map indicating my location. And there! low-and-behold! I came across a huge tree/bush that was black with berries. What a relief, shock and joy! I could work on this method after all. Later we drove home in a beautiful sunset with a bucket of about 7 cups of berries after a lovely supper at the sister’s place,

I later sorted and semi dried the berries in the dehydrator over night and the froze them for later use.

Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger)

Hyoscyamus niger / Henbane

Because I knew that this plant is a prohibited noxious weed in my province, I was almost certain that I would not find this ingredient for my recipe. (The seeds will kill the chicken that eats them.) Just in case, I asked my sister-in-law if she had seen any since she lives out in the country north of Edmonton. She said she would keep an eye out for it. 

In early July, we went on a camping trip south of Edmonton in the Drumheller area and stayed in Rosedale along the Rosebud River. It was 32C to 37C those days and the river looked very inviting. I went for a swim and explored a small island. It was on this island that I saw the Henbane plants blooming – I couldn’t believe my eyes and I found five plants there.

Next was to make a plan to extract the plants from the island the following day. I decided to walk to the bridge and approach from upstream. I was equipped with a plastic bowl to pour water at the base of the plants to loosen them from the stony soil. I was unprepared for the rapid, shallow, rocky water at the bridge and by the time I got through those rapids, my bowl was broken to smithereens and no longer useful and thankfully, I did not get impaled on any submerged tree branches. We another bowl which Dear Husband tossed to me from the bank and I continued to the island. It was tough work adding water and loosening the plant. Not being sure as to what part of the plant I would be using in the recipe, I wanted it roots and all.

By the time I gathered the three largest plants, the bundle was three feet long and a foot and a half thick. With this I reentered the river but, where I needed to get out it was narrow and deep as it rounded a bend. I came upon a family with teens playing there and definitely noticed some giant question marks on their faces as I came floating toward them with my arms full of plants. Not a usual foraging method. Thankfully the teens had been carving and placing stones in the steep bank and had almost completed a set of stairs to the top. I proudly mounted those steps with my treasure. I decided to dry the plants and then rolled them in a sheet for transport in the storage area of the RV.

As we rolled out of town, I called Alberta Agriculture and reported the sighting of the (remaining) Henbane plants on the island in the Rosebud River. 

Lupin Seed

In the previous blog post by Jackie Bush, she found that the likely type of lupin needed was the white edible seeds. I. too, will be using this variety and comparing them to the locally available garden variety. 

I used to have many lupin plants in my front yard but sadly the aphids liked them too much and I decided to remove them. Now, a couple of years later, I need the seeds of this plant and I had to resort to asking for help on social media. I posted a request for the seed tops and got a few replies. I also decided to cruise my neighborhood to look for them. This was an interesting and, for me, a brave endeavor being an introvert and all. When driving around, I spotted the furry beans on stocks, so, I went and knocked on the doors and explained my purpose…Egyptian papyri… recreating dye recipes….. and they said, “Sure, help yourself!”  Later, between poking and scraping in my mouth, I even asked my dental hygienist! She said that she had just cut hers down and tossed them in the woods behind her acreage house and that, if her husband hadn’t yet bulldozed them into the compost heap, I could have them. The next day, I was given a huge bag of lupin tops. 

All of these I laid out on a large table on top of a sheet of fabric, over this I laid a large screen door and tucked the fabric in around the edges. This then was set to dry in the sun and as the seed pods burst open the screen prevented the seeds from flying all over my backyard. I’d say that about half of the seeds burst open and the other half I shelled by hand. This was relaxing and as usual I had some good thinking time.

Lupinus / Lupine seed pods

Stockholm Recipe 86

For purple boil asphodel and natron, put the wool in it 8 drachmas at a time, and rinse it out. Then take and bruise 1 mina of grape skins, mix these with vinegar and let stand 6 hours. Then boil the mixture and put the wool in.

Asphodel (Aphodelus ramosus, of the lily family)

Asphodelus ramosus, Source: Wikimedia Commons

In this method, Asphodel and Natron would be considered the mordant for the fibre (wool) in this case. The lily family is known to be a bio-accumulator of some metals.

Asphodel is common in the Mediterranean and I was able to source some seeds out of the UK. With six packets of approximately 15 seeds per packet, I would try to get them germinated. The advice was to “over winter” the seeds to maximum -5C. On the Alberta prairie this would not do, I would have to find a way to mimic a UK/Mediterranean winter. 

For the first attempt the seeds were planted into pots and put into the freezer for about an hour. When the surface of the dirt was hardened, I removed them and hoped for the best. Shortly thereafter, we went on a road trip to southern Alberta and I took the pots with me. Well, I confess that they dried out more than once during our heat wave in July 2021. Nothing emerged from the soil on this attempt.

Next, as it was becoming autumn, I tried to duplicate the natural freeze and thaw that I believed necessary for germination by leaving the seeds outside as the days and nights went above and below 0C in a range of 12C to -5C. Again, I potted a packet of seeds and, this time, I also layered another packet of seeds between moistened paper towels inside a sealed plastic bag. After approximately 2 weeks of this freeze/thaw cycle, I brought them inside into lots of light by the window. 

I now have a single green shoot in one pot that may or may not be Asphodel. Although it may look like a blade of grass, it is completely round. Maybe chives? And, 2 of the seeds in the moist paper towel are larger than the rest. I just may have asphodel after all. If, in the end, this ingredient of the method is a wash, I will be using a local garden variety of lily. I must go out and dig up the bit I have before it is frozen in.

Natron – A natural, salt/carbonate deposit

Alberta natron

The Province of Alberta, Canada has an arid south east where there are salty white areas that form as the water dries up over the summer. On the same road trip that I found the Henbane, we stopped so that I could collect some of the white deposit. I gathered the crust in a tub and stored it in the RV. When we arrived home, even before unpacking the motorhome, I added rain water to dissolve the natron and poured it over to jars to allow the dirt to settle out. 

After a few weeks, the liquid was filtered to remove as much of the insoluble particles as possible. The resulting solution was put into a shallow tray to evaporate. Over the course of a few more weeks, as it dried, it began to form the cleaned and isolated white product again. 

Since my natron has a peachy tint to it and the liquid was orange, there is likely some iron in it as well. It is unknown if this would have been in the Egyptian natron but a comparison with a homemade recipe of natron will be interesting.

Grape Skins – Coronation purple grapes

Store bought Coronation grapes

My decision to use Coronation grapes in this method is that they were in season and available. Additionally, they are THE purple grape for grape jelly making, so, I figured that they would be suitable. In September, they were in stock at the Italian Center Shop in West Edmonton, Alberta. The grapes were grown in Osoyoos, British Columbia, Canada, and even though that is 1078km away, in Canada, this is still pretty local. At the store, I was curious about the flavour of these grapes and so, I took a grape out of the packet and slipped it under my mask (Covid) for a taste when I realized I was too late to notice a little kid had seen me. While I tasted, I tried to come up with a story for him (Egyptian papyri…. ancient dyes…) but, to my relief, the kid was being dragged away while his head was twisted backward and his stare convicted me. Whoever causes a little one to stumble……

The fruit is very sweet and the skin is tart and dry so it likely has a good tannin in it and is acidic. 

I spent the evening removing the skins off of the fruit. The skins went into the freezer for later use in the method, the fruit was separated from the seeds and frozen for sweet juice in smoothies. 

To test the purpleness of the skins I crushed some and put it on a white surface. After a few minutes I noticed that there was a colour shift as it was exposed to the air. Interesting. The lower line is a bit bluer than the upper, redder fresh line.

Leiden Recipe 98

Another (Procedure) Clean the wool with fullers plant, and hold at your disposal some lamellose alum. (Then) grinding the interior part of gall-nut, throw it in a pot with the alum, then put in the wool and let it remain several hours. Take it out and let it dry. Follow this procedure first: Having ground the lees (from wine) and having placed them in a vessel, pour in sea water, agitate and set aside. Then decant the clear water into another vessel and hold it at your disposal. Taking the alkanet and placing it in a vessel, mix with the water from the lees until it thickens conveniently and becomes as though sandy. Then place the product in a vessel, diluting it by estimation with the preceding water which comes from the alkanet. Then, when it has become as though slimy, place it in a small kettle, add to it the remainder of the alkanet water, and leave until lukewarm. Then plunge the wool in it, lay aside several hours, and you will find the purple fast.

Lees (from wine)

Lees from my husband’s home-made wine

Lees is the sediment containing the yeast after the first fermentation when making wine.

The recipe says to grind the lees so I interpret this to mean that it would have been dried. I imagine that the Egyptian sun and arid climate would have baked the lees dry when this recipe was used. 

My husband makes wine and he had a batch of lees, so I set a bowl out to evaporate the liquid off and I found out that the fruit flies liked it, so I covered it. Then, after two weeks, I checked the bowl of lees and there was a huge mould growth on its entire surface. Eww!  Apparently, this temperate zone is just not dry enough. I rescued it by warming the lees in a pan to steaming to (hopefully) kill any mold spores and then poured it in the fruit roll up tray in my dehydrator to dry it this way, instead.

Each time, I sieved out the oak chips, allowed it to settle in the fridge, poured off the excess liquid and then stirred it and spread it on the dehydrator tray to dry. 

Dehydrating the lees
Dehydrated lees for later use

After a day and a half, it became crispy. This, I broke into pieces and stored in a jar for later use in the method.

Next Steps

All of these ingredients will be used and/or compared to modern substitutions in the various methods now that I am ready to begin the processes. I will be making sample swatches of various fibres with the different methods and testing them for light fastness. Depending on which fibre takes up the most colour, I will dye more of it in order to make a larger example of the colour. In a later post I will show the results of my efforts.

These are some of my foraging and finding stories for the Stockholm and Leyden Papyri Dye Project. Memories to smile about in the years to come.

Donna Fillion, Alberta, Canada

Fair Colours

2 thoughts on “Foraging & Finding Ingredients

  1. This is all so fascinasting! Lupin grow like weeds in the higher elevations here in Colorado so next summer I’m going to pay a lot more attention to them with my foraging bag.


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