[Sca-cooks] Foods available in early Anglo Saxon England

Lilinah lilinah at earthlink.net
Tue Mar 25 18:31:56 PDT 2008

Ilsebet wrote:
>I apologize, as this is only vaguely food related, since I'm actually
>looking for dyestuffs...
>I'm part of a team for Cloth of Gold in a couple weekends in Ealdormere.
>We're doing an early Anglo-Saxon outfit from the southern part of what is
>now England. There's not a lot of information out there that we can find on
>what would have been used for dyes. We plan to make the argument that if it
>was used for food, it likely would have been used for dyes (oh hey, that
>stain is pretty! how can I replicate it?). I'm no clothing expert, I'm just
>running with it as the foodie on the team. My question is twofold:
>1) What berries (if any) would have been available?
>2) Would the Romans have brought beets with them?
>On the other hand, if anyone knows of a foodstuff, that would have been
>available in early Anglo-Saxon England, is pretty easily found now, and is
>capable of dying wool sort of red/purple (we're using madder in another part
>of the outfit, and don't have time for indigo/woad/weld, and want to stay
>away from yellow-greens), please speak up! The dye-ing experts on the team
>have scoured their Anglo-Saxon books to no avail, and have several natural
>dyes books available, but they are not sure what would have been available
>in the time/place we're trying to do.

First, you want to be dyeing wool, since cotton is out of the 
question for the time and place, and linen does not take most dyes 
well (well, in Egypt there's a lot of indigo dyed cotton and linen, 
and some madder dyed cotton and linen... but linen and cotton are 
generally used white).

Long ago (early 1970s) i took a natural dyeing class in college and 
besides "real" dyes i experimented with stuff in the fridge. Most 
didn't work well. Generally speaking berries do not make good dye. 
Without a mordant they are pale and fade fairly quickly to the washed 
out color of a stain. With a mordant (at least in my experience) they 
tend to turn a rather pale greyish color.

Yeah, yeah, yellow onion skins are nice - i'd go to the supermarket 
and clean out the dried skins at the bottom of the onion bin. You 
need a grocery shopping bag full to get good colors. And depending on 
the mordant you use - and the metal of the pot - you can get 
different shades of yellow, orange, and yellow-brown. Iron "saddens" 
colors - makes them duller, darker, greyer. Copper would make the 
colors a bit greener. But i've never seen good evidence that onion 
skins were used as a common dye in most of the historical areas i've 

The Angles and Saxons knew about dyes and wouldn't have to waste food 
on fabric. I'm not much of a botanist, but i know that woad for blue, 
weld or Scotch broom for yellow, and madder for red were pretty 
common in many parts of Europe and i know that woad and madder grew 
in England then

OK, just tried google and got this page (scroll down for info on 
dyes) - and maybe they'll share the books they got the info out of. 
This group tries to be historically accurate and has rules about what 
one can use/wear.
Urtatim (that's err-tah-TEEM)
the persona formerly known as Anahita

My LibraryThing

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