Plants can be good as food and used to make natural dyes

Marian Hester of Freshisle Fibers held a natural dyeing workshop at her business location in Gordon/Barrie Island Township earlier this month. She was participating in the Manitoulin Garden Tour.

GORDON/BARRIE ISLAND – It was no doubt one of the more unusual stops on the Local Food Manitoulin Manitoulin Garden Tour this summer. Marian Hester and her natural dyeing workshop took place over two days earlier this month in Gordon/Barrie Island Township.

“There are many plants that we eat that can also be used to produce beautiful natural dyes,” said Ms. Hester, of Freshisle Fibres. “For instance, there is rhubarb whose leaves and roots give beautiful dyes,” she said at the large garden she has on the property that she and her husband Todd Bailey live on. “Carrot tops are another food that makes great dyes.”

“You can have a garden filled with all types of good things you can eat, and use them for a dual purpose as naturally dyed products,” said Ms. Hester.

Ms. Hester was the organizer of the 25th annual Manitoulin Art Tour, held the same weekend across the Island, as well as participating in the Manitoulin Garden Tour. “Because I’m also organizing the art tour I decided to be a participant in the garden tour as well. It is really all part of the same thing; my garden is where I get many of my materials for the hand-dyed yarns. She pointed out herbs from the garden can also be used in natural soaps.

She grows woad and madder in her garden, from the British Isles. She explained the latter was used to make dyes for the Red Coats in Britain. “Hopi I ordered from the southwest, Arizona and New Mexico to use in making dyes.” 

Ms. Hester’s workshop was one of a 10-day series of events and opportunities to “explore the Island through activities and garden tours that showcased gardens, farms and food production on Manitoulin Island.”

“It was an idea that we had talked about around the table at the Child Poverty Task Force where we have been working on community gardens,” said Kristin Bickell, project manager with the Manitoulin Community Fresh Food Initiative at Noojmowin Teg. “We want to direct attention to community food, locally grown products. It’s something we have been doing through the Good Food Box program as we have sourced local products. There is a lot going on and we want to draw attention to what’s here on the Island.” 

As they put together the Manitoulin Garden Tour schedule there were a few surprises in store, even for the veteran local food advocates at the Good Food Box program.

“There are quite a few things I didn’t even know about,” added Ms. Bickell, giving the example of the natural dyeing workshop conducted by Ms. Hester that took place July 20 and 21. “She grows plants and creates natural dyes.” 

There were 21 different stops on the Manitoulin Garden Tour, which ran from July 18 to 28. From tobacco tie workshops to mushroom tours, square foot gardening to storytelling, beekeeping to sprouting for beginners, pumpkin patches and medicine teachings, a host of garden tours and herbal vinegar.