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Chinese Herb-Dyed Easter Eggs

By Katie Stoyka, Mayway Staff
March 15, 2018 2 comments

Working with medicinal herbs, you can’t help but hear about alternate traditional uses. I have long been curious about the coloring power of some of our herbs, so when I came across the usual springtime blogs about using colorful foods as egg dye, I decided to experiment. Here’s what happened.

Chinese herb egg dyes

I researched a few herbs whose English names conjure up brilliant yarn dyed in large outdoor vats: indigo, safflower, madder, goldenthread. These, I hoped, would give me the red, yellow and blue primary colors that I could then mix for secondary greens, purples and oranges. Best laid plans, ahem!

The wonderful thing about nature is it often gives you unexpected results. The one herb I was certain would give rich deep color was Qing Dai (indigo). Not the case. Indigo, I later discovered, is actually a fussy dye that does not dissolve easily and should not be stirred too much as oxygen dissipates its coloring ability. Whisking like mad to get the powder to dissolve resulted in a pale grey with blue specks.

Some herbs, like Hong Hua (safflower), were vibrant when added to water only to darken from bright orange to a simple brown after cooking for just 15 minutes. Others developed deeper more complex color after being boiled, like Qian Cao (madder).

Easter eggs dyed with Chinese herbs

Here is a basic recipe if you’d like to do some experimenting yourself. NOTE: the herbs I chose were based on color, not action. Chinese herbs can have powerful effects. If you plan on eating the eggs, choose the herbs accordingly.

18 grams (roughly 2-3 Tbs) powdered herb
2 cups water
2 Tbs white vinegar
Hard boiled eggs

Mix powdered herb with water and bring to a boil. Simmer 1-15 min depending on herb (see chart below). Strain through a coffee filter, transfer to bowl or jar and add vinegar. Immerse hard boiled eggs until desired color is reached, a few minutes up to overnight in the fridge. Dry on upside down egg carton.

Hong Hua cook just until dissolved light orange to medium brown
Zhi Zi simmer 10 min golden yellow with brown speckles
Qian Cao simmer 15 min bisque to russet
Huang Lian simmer 10 min pale yellow to gold
Qing Dai do not stir, cook until dissolved pale blue with deep blue speckles

If you experiment with this, we'd love to hear your results! Please share in the comments section below.

ALZADA MAGDALENA April 2, 2018 at 2:02 PM
Hi Katie,
Eggs are fun! And dyes are more complex than we would think. Here is a great article on indigo, which you discovered, is not water soluable. http://box19.ca/maiwa/pdf/indigo_data.pdf
Another way to dye eggs with natural dyes, and pretty results is to wrap your raw eggs with layers of onion skins, and bind them with string or thread, then boil them for 1/2 hour on a medium heat. When you unwind the thread, you will find a nicely mottled egg - golden brown mottling for yellow onion skins, and purple for red skins.
Katie Stoyka, Mayway Staff April 2, 2018 at 2:36 PM
Yes! I've read about the onion skins and even saved some up but never got around to trying it. I'll have to give it another go. Thanks for the article, very interesting!