Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Lichen Excursion

I recently discovered the world of lichen dyeing. I stumbled upon it on the internet and have since taken out many books and lichen guides to conduct my research. And I got my friends hooked on it as well, so on Saturday, we took both our families out for a lichen excursion in the forest up the North road. 
Lichens are very slow-growing organisms so it is very important to harvest them responsibly. Use only lichens that are abundant. Don't take more than 1/10 of a lichen in an area. Use any that have fallen off their substrate first. If you do harvest them when they are still attached to their substrate, make sure that you leave part of them still attached to their tree/rock/earth, as this part will still be able to grow. Finally, you don't need much to make dye. One cup of lichen is enough to make a dye vat. 
Some lichens make a red or purple dye and these need to be fermented in ammonia for 3 months. Others you can use right away in a boiling water dye batch.
Peltigera aphthosa, Freckled Pelt, is an abundant lichen in our area. It is supposed to make a pink dye, using the ammonia method.
 We found this interesting fungi on our hike, but have no idea what it is. Anyone?
 Pyxie-cup lichen? This one doesn't make a dye, but is cute to look at.
 Baneberry. These berries are highly poisonous.
 After scouting around one location, we headed to a new spot, high on a ridge, with some old coniferous trees. It was the perfect location to find some wolf lichen.
 Letharia vulpina, wolf lichen. This lichen makes a brilliant yellow dye, using the boiling water method.
 Wolf lichen is poisonous and it was used to kill off wolves in Europe, by sprinkling it on wolf bait.
I believe this one is Cladina rangiferina, or Grey Reindeer Lichen. As far as I know, it doesn't make any dye, but it is a beautiful looking lichen. My plant book says, "The stomach contents of freshly killed caribou (partly digested reindeer lichens) are considered a great delicacy and are eaten immediately without cooking. They are said to taste like fresh lettuce salad; we have no doubt this is true." Hahaha.
 Our next stop was a short hike off the road to an old bear's den. Apparently it hasn't been used for hibernation for the last 10 years. Kesten and his buddy crawled right in and made themselves at home. I was surprised by how tiny that entrance was. I was expecting something bigger for a bear.

 We hiked a little further past the bear den to see a transition zone. Four-hundred year-old coniferous trees suddenly give way to 100 year-old aspens. A fire had gone through the area, long ago, and where the coniferous trees were killed off, the aspens quickly grew up. It was stunningly beautiful to see.
 Can you spot the little Robin Hood in the forest?
 And a treat on our way up the road- a garter snake! There are so few reptiles this far North. I've only seen two other snakes here before- one of them was squished. Garter snakes are about the only reptile that survives the cold winters here; not even turtles can make it. The downside to being cold-blooded, I guess.
 Back at home, I sorted out my lichens and set them up on my mantle.
 I've got two ammonia vats going for two different types of lichens. They need to be shaken 5-6 times a day for the first week, and gradually less and less every week for the next 3 months.
 Wolf lichen, ready for dyeing. I plan on dyeing my other silk semi-circle scarf with the wolf lichen.

Hopefully I'll be able to post some more in the future about my lichen dyes!


  1. Beautiful pictures! Here in Nome there is a lichen that women pick and put in ammonia to make a dye. These ladies also collect, spin, dye, and knit Qiviut. I have a done a little collect of Qiviut, but not the other. Work does tend to interfere with my play. It will be nice to see the progression of your dye project, then see how you use it.

    1. Wow! I had to google Qiviut! Very cool! I wonder what other lichen they collect? I really want to find some rock tripe lichen. I think that makes the most amazing colour!

  2. Well that was extremely fascinating! I love the things you come up with Kris! I can't wait to see how the dyes turn out


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