As a kid, I loved dyeing Easter eggs. (When is Easter this year? Click here.) It was great fun putting the store-bought color tablets in vinegar and watching them fizz, and then deciding which part of an egg to dip in which color and for how long. Sometimes, I used a crayon to draw a pattern on the shell so that when the egg was dyed, the design would pop out.
Of course, that’s not the only way to decorate Easter eggs. Another method is to use plant materials and food to naturally dye the egg. The nice part of this technique is that you can find the materials right in your own garden and grocery store. A few of us at The Old Farmer’s Almanac got together recently to try this out. Here’s what we learned:
Although there are lots of options, we chose blueberries to make a bluish purple dye as well as mixed yellow and red onion skins for a gold to orange dye.
See more homemade egg dye color suggestions.
For the blueberry dye: We placed about 2 cups of frozen blueberries in a medium, stainless steel pot and mixed in enough water so that the level would cover the eggs when they were added. The mixture then simmered for about 20 minutes (and was stirred every so often, when we had a spare moment).
For the onion-skin dye: We started water boiling in another stainless steel pot, again including enough water to cover the eggs when they were added.
While the dyes were bubbling away, we prepared the eggs, both white and brown. White naturally offered the best canvas for vivid effects, but we were also interested in seeing any subtle highlights that might occur with the brown.
First, we gathered several pairs of new panty hose. We cut up each leg of a pair of panty hose into three sections. Each section would hold one egg. One end of each section was knotted so that it formed a sort of cup. (We left the toe sections as-is.)
Then, we took an egg and arranged snippets of edible plant material around the shell. These create interesting patterns when the egg is dyed. We chose herbs such as dill, thyme, and rosemary, as well as petals from carnations, forsythia, tulips, and roses. Arranging them on the shell was the difficult part. It helped to place the egg in the panty hose “cup” and then arrange the material around it while holding the cup open. However, it was easy to accidentally rearrange the leaves and petals already in place while adding new ones.
We sprinkled a few eggs with coffee granules, hoping for a speckled effect.
For the onion-dyed eggs, we covered the eggs in sections of onion skins so that most or all of the surfaces were covered.
Once the plant material was arranged as we liked, and the egg was nestled in its panty hose cup, we tied the top into a knot so that the egg was snug in the nylon mesh.
Instead of using plant material to make patterns, you can use rubber bands of varying widths to make crisscross shapes around the egg. (Be careful when attaching the bands to the fragile shells!) In this case, you wouldn’t need to place the egg in a panty hose cup. We got a little mixed up and decorated every which way. But, hey, we were learning and having a good time! Another thing we found out was that the colored rubber bands we had used to identify which egg was whose lost their shape in the boiling water and came undone. Be sure to use regular (brown) rubber bands if they are going into hot water!
Next, we added 2 tablespoons of white vinegar to each pot, placed the eggs into their preferred dyes, and boiled them for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so that all areas were covered.
After the eggs were cooked in the dye enough to produce the desired shade, we removed them from the pots and transferred them to bowls. In order to handle the eggs, we cooled them by running cold water over the shells. (You can also just let them cool on their own, if you have the time.)
Finally, we reached the moment when we could remove all of the plant materials and see the effects. There were lots of oohs and aahs as the eggs were unwrapped. And, there was a puzzle: The blueberry-dyed eggs were not a purply blue—they were mocha! Our theory is that the coffee granules sprinkled on some of the eggs may have affected the color of the entire dye. Oh, well. They still look nice and marbly, don’t they?
We had a lot of fun exploring this technique. Have you tried this method or another way of decorating Easter eggs? Share your ideas below! Or, upload a photo of your decorated eggs in our Easter ecard gallery.
Happy egg dyeing!
Heidi Stonehill, our Senior Editor, joined the team in 2001. She enjoys the natural sciences, gardening, music, art, poetry, and animals—especially her fuzzy feline, Joey.