Natural Dye Notebook :: No. 29, Hornbeam

Posted by Erin Howe on

My neighbors have been generous enough to invite me to go foraging in their woods, which are more extensive than my own. And so I was deep in their woods, accompanied by my booted and cloaked mushroom-foraging 11-year-old, when I came across the green chandelier earrings of the hornbeam tree. I don’t have any hornbeams as far as I know. I haven’t found any in my creekbank combing and woods wandering, anyway. So I was excited to take a cutting home for the dyepot and see what I’d find. 

First of all, though, just to clear up the funny sounding name. Apparently the wood is very hard and can be polished up to look like horn. Add “beam”, the Old English word for tree, and there you go.

Leaves gave me light to dark browns:

Bark too, a touch warmer:

A comparison:

And with an iron dip:

If hornbeam had offered me some exotic color that I couldn’t get anywhere else, we might have a kind of Rapunzelesque fairy tale on our hands. I’d have to trespass into the neighbors’ woods at great peril of discovery to obtain the {exotic color} dye…but it’s only brown, of which my own domestic maples are capable, and my neighbors aren’t wicked witches, just kind people slightly bemused at my fascination with their trees. I’ll have to get my storybook thrills some other way. Hornbeam can’t help me.


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