presented at Crown Tourney in Eisental
Sarah bas Mordecai & Jadwiga Zajaczkowa
At the East Kingdom Crown Tourney in the Spring of 2001, on the dayboard,
we presented both plain (undyed) hardboiled eggs, and hardboiled eggs dyed
with food-safe natural dyes:
How we dyed them:
We used 2 methods in our dyeing: either boiling the dyestuff with the eggs,
or soaking the boiled eggs in a cooled infusion of the dyestuff in water.
Eggs were either placed in cold water and brought up to boiling temperature
(about 10-15 minutes), then boiled for 10 minutes, or, if we were working
with previously heated dyewater, placed in the water, brought to a boil (about
5 minutes) and boiled for 10-15 minutes. We used USDA small eggs (small eggs
make a better 'package' size on dayboards and can be obtained relatively
1- Red beets
Contrary to our expectations, boiling the eggs with red beets, which we thought
would produce a fine strong red, produced this brown. We used a mixture of
fresh beets and canned beets, about 3 cups in all.
There is some controversy over whether red beetroot was known in period in
Europe, but central European sources indicate red beets were probably available
there by late period.
Creating a turmeric tea (about 2 tbsp. dried, powdered turmeric root to 2
quarts hot water) and soaking the hardboiled eggs in the 'tea' produced such
a lovely shade of yellow that we didn't feel the need to try any other method.
The dyeing method left a faint spice odor but that tended to dissipate over
Turmeric was imported into Europe in small quantities for dyeing in period.
3 -Annato seed
We tried boiling the annato seeds with the eggs, which produced a lovely
bright orange with darker orange streaks. (Annato seed is a south american
spice/dyestuff and doesn't appear to be known in Europe in period, but it
is foodsafe-- it's used in Hispanic/Latino cooking).
4 & 5- Red Cabbage
We tried both boiling the cabbage with the eggs (5) and boiling the cabbage
first, then soaking the boiled eggs in it (4). Soaking the boiled eggs in
the cabbage water worked best: it required at least 30 to 45 minutes of soaking
to get a good color. (Adding vinegar to the cabbage water removes the dye,
however.) German and Eastern European food experts claim that red cabbage
was known in period.
Boiled greens are supposed to produce a green dye, but we didn't get very
far with this. We had some water from boiling spinach, but it wasn't very
dark green, so we sent Aegidius out to collect dandelion leaves and other
greens from the yard in the dark. About 3 cups of greens went into our dyebath,
and produced this muddy greenish brown when boiled with the eggs for about
7- Red Cabbage/Red Beets
This is what happened when we used the red beets to make a dyebath and soaked
some of the red cabbage eggs in it. Using a cool red beet dyebath on plain
white eggs got us a light pink, not pictured here.
8- Yellow Onion Skins
Basically, for a 3 gallon pot of water, we put in about a quart of dried
onion skins (in a net onion bag, tied tightly) and boiled the eggs (they were
in the water between 20 and thirty minutes).
We were so impressed with the results of boiling the eggs with the onion
skins (a rich red-mahogany color) that we didn't try preparing a dyebath
and putting the boiled eggs in it. Colors were varied by whether we took
the eggs out of the liquid and rinsed them in cold water, or just took them
out and air-dryed them. (The slightly lighter colored similar eggs to the
left were rinsed slightly)
9- White egg for comparison
This is what an undyed egg obtained and boiled at the same time looked like.
The exchanging of colored eggs, especially at Easter, has been documented
in Britain, Russia, and most Eastern European cultures to at least the late
medieval/Renaissance period (1500s and early 1600s). Colored eggs were left
at graves in Slavic cultures as far back as the 1200s. Red eggs, later dyed
with brazilwood, seem to have been the most popular. They may also have been
dyed with alkanet, but our experiments show that red eggs could have been
easily obtained by boiling eggs with the onionskins left in the onion storage!
Gonzalez, Rosa. "To Dye For: try natural dyes for elegant Easter Eggs".
Food Network. Web page:
"Natural Dyes for Easter Eggs." In Season: Herbs and Baskets: Spring.
"Dyeing Eggs Naturally", Martha Stewart: Learn: Easter.
American Egg Board, "NATURALLY DYED EGGS," http://www.aeb.org/kidsandfamily/eastereggs/naturaldyed.asp
Knab, Sophie. Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore. (NY: Hippocrene,
Newall, Venetia. An egg at Easter; a folklore study. (Bloomington,
Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1971)