Both the flowers and leaves of the Hibiscus bush can be used to produce a lovely reddish Hibiscus dye.
Hibiscus bushes are very easy to grow and prefer a tropical or temperate climate. However some of the older varieties – such as ‘Apple Blossom’ – will also tolerate colder climates.
The plants can be cultivated from a cutting and make good hedging plants, potted plants or even landscaped bushes. They need full sun and a well drained, neutral to slightly alkaline soil. Hibiscus is a water loving plant and hates to dry out so they grow well in low-lying areas.
From the ‘Mallow’ family they are heavy feeders but do well on a Rose or Citrus fertilizer.
In India, when Hybiscus is crushed it turns black and yields a purplish dye that is used for blacking shoes! In parts of China it is even used to dye hair. In fact hibiscus dye is becoming very popular as a hair dye all over the world now.
Hawaiians eat the raw flowers to aid digestion and the Chinese pickle them!
One more fact: in Tahitian lore, a hibiscus flower worn over the right ear shows that a person is looking for a mate. If over the left ear that a mate has been found!
Creating Hibiscus Dye
To create your hibiscus dye, take the flower heads and simmer very gently in filtered water for approximately 30 minutes.
If the water gets too hot, the dye will lose its beautiful pinkish hues and turn a horrible brown color! The intensity of the color will depend on how much dye stuff you use in ratio to the yarn or fiber you are dying.
Hibiscus flowers can also be picked, dried and stored for use in a dye later on.
After you have created the hibiscus dye, strain off any plant material so that you are left with just the dye liquor.
Your yarn or fiber should be pre-mordanted using the mordant of your choice, before being placed in the dye bath to receive the color.
See our guide to natural dyeing for full details on the natural dyeing process.