A couple of months ago, when the Scotch Broom was blooming, I gathered some to experiment with. It’s considered a noxious invasive here in the NW, so there is plenty around and no one minds if you harvest it. It’s on the quarantine plant list, but I think someone forgot to tell the plants! The seeds can remain dormant and viable for over 30 years making it hard to control.¹ I’m doing my part by harvesting before seed set.
Cytisus scoparius is the local variety. Historically, it has a long history of use as a dye, for fiber; textiles and paper, of course brooms, and medicinally for the liver and as a cardiac tonic; although I’ve read that the active constituents can vary widely from plant to plant and most herbalists now use more reliable plants. I haven’t met anyone who uses it medicinally, but you can read more about the history of uses here. Care must be taken to absolutely ID it as there are similar looking plants such as Spanish Broom that are toxic.
I decided to stay with craft uses. Through a bit of research, I found that the “broom” used for dyes was actually Genista tinctoria² But I decided to give it a try anyway. For this dye experiment I pre-mordanted my fabric with alum. I gathered a bunch of flowers and simmered them for a short time, then strained them off and soaked my cloth in the yellow liquid for about two months.
I was pretty happy with the results. The only caveat seems to be light fastness. I set the pieces of fabric on the back patio to dry and of course forgot about them till the next afternoon…. after a rainstorm during the night and bright sun the next day, much of the color in the ones that didn’t blow up against the house in the shade had faded quickly. But for decorative projects that would stay indoors, it makes quite a nice yellow.
In theory I also wanted to make fiber from the stalks, but the video I saw on the process was actually for genestra, although I imagine the process is similar; it’s not in English, but pretty easy to follow along visually. It seems to require dancing and singing and no small amount of polluting of streams, but imagine how wonderful items that took this much attention to produce would feel. It did look very labor intensive…. so they’re sitting in a pile out back and likely not too useful for anything at this point….
although I have read that the stems have lots of tannins, so perhaps I will make a tea with them to try tanning some salmon skin again. (My first attempt was a fail, but that’s another story)
Has anyone else used Scotch Broom? Please comment below!