Do mushrooms have a history of being used to make dyes?

by Maggie
(Alpine, TX)

Wool yarn dyed with mushrooms

Wool yarn dyed with mushrooms


I love using natural dyes for my knitting yarn. I've dabbled with lichen dyes, and I'm about to give mushroom dyes a whirl.

Just for my own curiosity, has there been a long history of using mushrooms to make dyes? And if so, does that history span many different cultures? Would love to know!


Yes, mushrooms have a long history of being used to create dyes for coloring fabric. In fact, some of the earliest known examples of mushroom dyeing date back to the Neolithic period, around 10,000 BCE.

In northern Europe during the Middle Ages, the fly agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria) was used to create a bright red dye. This mushroom was highly valued for its color and was often reserved for use in the clothing of royalty and other high-status individuals.

The Zapotec people of Oaxaca, Mexico have a long history of using mushrooms to dye textiles. In particular, they use the caps of the parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera) to create a deep, reddish-brown color. The Zapotec people have been using this technique for thousands of years, and it remains an important part of their cultural heritage.

In Finland and other parts of Scandinavia, the use of mushrooms as a dye dates back to the Viking era. The Finns, in particular, have a tradition of using the dyer's polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) to create a range of colors, including greens, yellows, and browns. The Finns typically use the mushroom dye to color wool and other natural fibers, and the resulting textiles are often used in traditional Finnish dress and other cultural contexts.

Different species of mushrooms produce different colors, depending on their chemical composition. For example, the shaggy ink cap mushroom (Coprinus comatus) produces a rich brown color, while the dyer's polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) produces shades of green and yellow.

Extracting the pigments from mushrooms typically involves boiling the mushrooms in water, and then soaking the fabric in the resulting dye solution. Different mordants, or substances that help the dye to adhere to the fabric, can be used to achieve different shades and colors.

In the Western world, the use of mushroom dyes declined in popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries with the rise of synthetic dyes, but there has been a resurgence of interest in natural dyes in recent years.

If you do create a batch of yarn using mushroom dye, please share some photos with us!

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