Kitty Wilson Brown is our latest artist to take part in our Meet the Artist Series where we invite a talented, Natural Dye expert to take on the challenge of dyeing their bespoke knickers using their favourite dye plants.
Kitty graduated in 2021, with a BA in Textile Design specialising in woven textiles at Chelsea College Of Art, UAL. In her second year she was nominated and studied at Tama Arts University in Tokyo, Japan. Japan is where she learnt and became fixated with weaving. Since she graduated in July 2022, she has completed a two-month internship for the Liverpool Weaving Company, shadowing how a micro mill is run.
More recently Kitty co-founded Contemporary Hempery, which is a field to fibre fabric project, starting with growing hemp following the granting of a growing license. At CH their ambition is to do this whole project from field to fabric, reintroducing hemp as a sustainable crop in the UK.
The proposed end product is beautifully designed woven hemp regenerative fabric. She wants to elevate hemp fabric to a new level. Colour and pattern have intrigued, inspired and excited Kitty’s life. To her colour is the way we see, respond and interact with the world.
Kitty Thrives on working with colour and pattern, which is consistent through her creations. Sustainability and ethics are consistent focus point of her work, which has resulted this year her creating her own textile garden growing her own fibres and natural dye plants.
We love her special edition creations and hope you will too.
They are now available in our online shop, 2 pairs for £30.
Find Kitty @contemporaryhempery on instagram.
Keep an eye out as we add more colours to the site. There is only one pair of each knicker and they are all size small.
If you love growing your own dye plants or you are an avid gardener then you will love this month’s Meet the Artist Interview with Sophie Holt. She created ‘Pigment’, A social enterprise growing Organic dye plants on a commercial scale and supporting adults with learning disabilities into training and work, and lives down the road in Ashburton, Devon.
Sophie has facilitated adults with additional needs in various settings across Shropshire and Devon. Sophie’s real passion is to offer a therapeutic environment, support, work experience and training in a productive and commercial space, to people that are often excluded from standard workplaces. PIGMENT considers its trainees to be within the fabric of the business, which supplies artists, dyers and the wider textile industry.
Thank you for being part of our Meet the Artist Series.
Your flower farm and dye studio are based at Baddaford Farm. Can you tell us about this special place and the ethos behind it?
Baddaford Farm has 6 businesses based on it; Baddaford Farm itself, producing field scale vegetables for Riverford, and 5 members of the Baddaford Collective; Vital Seeds, Incredible Vegetables, Green Ginger Organics, Red Earth Herbs and PIGMENT Organic Dyes – that’s us! The collective was established to promote beauty, sustainability and social justice within an economically viable farm. It is a very special place; there are secret ponds, a stream, two reservoirs, diverse wildlife and a mix of woodland, grassland and cultivated agricultural land. We, as members of the collective, enjoy following the nature of the farm, its inhabitants and seasonal fluctuations – we are connected and committed to being guardians of the land and to connect with each other in order to promote cohesion and collaboration in business.
You have a level 2 in Horticulture. When did this love of working outdoors with plants start and what led you to growing dye plants specifically?
I worked on a couple of care farms whilst living in Shropshire and was helping to run a locally sourced, ethical café at the same time, meeting local food producers and learning about local food provenance. I knew immediately, when working outside with adults with learning disabilities in a horticultural setting, that the environment was magic, and so was the process in growing plants. I then undertook the course, and started to gain work in local Organic farms. I always achieved my highest grades at school and college in textiles, and reignited my love for fabric when I learnt upholstery, following my horticulture course. I have taught horticulture, upholstery and art techniques therapeutically at various care farms, but wanted to be more resourceful in my practice. I discovered natural dyeing through a weekend course in the Cotswolds, and realised my worlds could come beautifully together. PIGMENT’s aim is to grow high quality, natural and Organic dye plants that are suited to the climate here In South Devon. I want to increase the supply of natural dyes for designers, makers and dyers, and to reduce the use of toxic dyes one sale at a time – both wholesale and retail.
We love your knickers. Tell us what plants you used to dye them and how you did it?
I used Crackerjack African Marigolds to create the mottled golden yellow colour, and Scabious Black Knight for the green Shibori knickers; made by clamping wooden shapes to resist the dye in desired places. The Scabious needs less heat, so is only heated to a simmer then turned off for the colour to bond slowly. The marigolds simmer for half an hour. Both knickers were scoured using ecological, PH neutral soap and mordanted with local oak galls, aluminium sulphate and soda ash before dyeing.
What do you love most about working with dye plants and natural dyeing?
I love the magic. I love the smells. I love the whole process, from seed, to plant, to flower or root, to the gigantic tea, the fabric and its end product. It just makes sense to me.
I have to ask but what is your favourite dye plant to grow and/or to dye with?
I really love Weld. It’s an incredible brassica plant, incredibly traditional, full of pollinators when in flower, one big harvest, smells like cabbage when you simmer it, then brings the biggest surprise when you reveal the fibre – bright yellow! People can never believe it’s colour from a plant when they see it.
You mention on your website that you “facilitate social engagement with fashion and its sources” can you tell us a little bit about what you mean?
This highlights the connection of people to land, its plants and its final products. It’s about inviting people to be part of the project, to witness the circular system of the inputs into growing the plants, the bi-products from dyeing and the way in which the dyes and fabric can be used in micro-productions and on a larger scale in the textile industry. It’s sometimes hard for people to engage with fashion and its sources when it’s so detached from the land and our own landscapes. I hope that PIGMENT bridges the gap.
Why is working in a Regenerative system so important to you?
Because it considers the whole picture of agriculture, including people and local economies, while ensuring that we are improving the vital soil ecosystems rather than depleting them. In Devon there are so many ‘hedges and edges’, which has always made total sense to me – capturing water, retaining it, providing shade and edges for wildlife to travel and thrive. I personally think it’s so important for our soils to thrive from the result of carefully managed mixed farming systems and our ancient techniques and varieties to be shared in order to combat climate change as temperatures start to increase. I also chose to grow the dye plants Organically because I think it’s fundamental to increase insect populations which are being decimated with the widespread use of insecticides on crops.
Have you got any top horticulture tips or book recommendations for those of us wanting to grow our own dye plants at home?
I have some key horticultural books that I have leaned on so far in my commercial growing, but none yet dye-plant-specific!:
- The New Organic Grower by Eliot Coleman
- The Lean Farm by Ben Hartman
- Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden by Erin Benzikein
You can follow Sophie and her amazing work @pigmentplantdyes
We continue our journey, highlighting tremendous natural fibre and dye artists nationwide.
This month we had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Barker co-founder of Southeast fibreshed who has been exploring natural fibres and dyeing for over 25 years.
When not in the dye studio, she is consultant for Pasture for Life. This movement champions the restorative power of grazing animals on pasture and educates on regenerative agriculture. A topic very close to our hearts.
Thank you, Deborah, for finding the time in your busy work schedule to take part in our knicker challenge!
Please can you tell us for those that don’t know what is South east fibre shed? And a little bit about how you came to set it up?
The fibershed movement is a grass roots US non profit organisation that is supporting the development of regional regenerative fashion and textile systems around the globe. There are now over 60 affiliates including 6 in the UK. Fibreshed clothing is based on the principle of ‘ soil to soil.’ The textiles come from the earth and return to the earth at the end of their useful lives.
I co-founded the Southeast England Fibreshed in autumn 2019 with my daughter, Gala Bailey Barker, a live stock farmer who produces yarn and products from the Plaw Hatch Flock and Harriet Miler an international knitwear designer and farmer.
We were all deeply disturbed by the environmental and social cost of the fashion and textiles industry and the increasing use of synthetics while at the same time seeing wool which is abundant in the Southeast of England being discarded and devalued. The fibreshed offered a model for moving towards a more socially and environmentally equitable system of production.
The Southeast fibreshed encompasses London and the counties to the South and West of the City. It was really important to us that London was included in the geographical area so that we could link with designers, makers and journalists in the City who get the majority of the media attention while centering the work of farmers who have been marginalised and undervalued. We need farmers to grow the dyes and produce the wool or we don’t have the raw material to create Fibreshed products so that is where we are focusing our work at the moment. The raw materials need to be farmed in way that nourishes the people, animals, plants, soil and ecosystem that produce them so we are working with farmers who share our vision to demonstrate what is possible.
What brought you into the world of natural fibres and colour?
I studied the history of fashion and textiles with Professor Lou Taylor and it was encountering handcrafted textiles while I was at University that brought me into the world of natural fibres and colours, it was love at first sight! there is something so nourishing about beautifully made textiles which reveal the hand of the maker in the subtlest of ways. The textures and feel of natural fibres, they way they age and hold memory can be incredibly nourishing.
When you study the history of design it is very clear that synthetic textiles and dyes are a very recent invention. It gives me hope that we can turn things around and mitigate some of the harms that industrial chemical production committed in the name of fashion.
My daughter learnt to spin when she was thirteen and I dyed the wool she spun with plants I foraged from the fields around us. It is such a thrilling experience to work and co create with plants, each colour a unique expression of a particular season, geography, plant, moment. Unlike synthetic dyes plant dyes are made up of many colour pigments and they express themselves at different times in different lights and have a particular warmth and depth.
What natural dyes did you decide to use to dye our knickers?
Can you tell us the process you went through?
I knew I wanted to work with madder which I grow both at my studio and at Plaw Hatch Farm. I also wanted to do something that really valued the preciousness of materials and dyestuffs. Historically and to this day, the true costs of textiles and colour has been subsidised by enslaved labour or by the labour of people in the global south and by exploiting their landscapes. When you grow colour yourself it really makes you appreciate how precious it is. Companies like Bedstraw and madder are the rare exception.
I also wanted to do something that people could do at home. I used my scraps of linen and cotton from past projects and solar dyed them in madder from garden.. Solar dyeing is very simple, I harvested the madder roots and cleaned them and chopped them, put them in a kilner jar and poured boiling water on them and left them over night. The following day I removed the madder roots and put in the wetted textile scraps. I left them on the windowsill and moved them around every few hours.
Next I played around to create a pattern on the knickers with the different textures and hues of the madder scraps until I had a pattern that I liked. If I decide I want a change I can easily unstitch and create another pattern.
The Regenerative agriculture movement is now starting to get a lot of awareness.
Can you tell us a little about the work you are doing in this area in the UK?
I am programme Manager for a new project with Pasture for Life . With the support of a fantastic project manager I have set up and am running a farmer to farmer event and mentoring programme to support farmers to transition to regenerative grazing. By adopting adaptive grazing systems suited to the needs of the animals and landscape we can begin to restore biodiversity and the carbon and nutrient cycle, and as importantly the water cycle. There is too much attention paid to carbon and not enough attention paid to the potential of the water cycle which is hugely affected by agriculture, for better or worse depending on the approach, to mitigate rising temperatures. It is very clear working with farmers that they are on the frontline of the climate crisis and while agroindustrial chemical farming is still doing terrible harms there is growing body of farmers committed to working with nature and reversing the damage.
Is there a way we can get involved in learning more about natural fibres, natural colour and regenerative farming through fibreshed?
Southeast England Fibreshed recently partnered with South West Fibreshed to make a Three Part Podcast about the fibreshed movement in the UK and Reconnecting Farming and Fashion. It was produced by farmerama radio and can listen here https://soundcloud.com/farmerama-radio/sets/farming-fashion You can also find it on any platform where you listen to podcasts.
I highly recommend reading or listening to Rebecca Burgess book Fibershed which you can buy on on bookshop.org .
Visit fibershed.org to find out if there’s a fibreshed in your area and what is available. If there is not a fibreshed in your area then consider setting one up!
These are the bodies that are informing our work and thinking around agriculture.
It is an ongoing debate as to whether there should be a regenerative certification but the farmers I work with are a long way from agreeing a definition so beware of greenwashing and simplistic answers.
In the Southeast we are mapping the fibre producers and working out what the criteria are for using the fibreshed logo. Fibreshed producers work with local fibres, local labour and local dyes so we need to establish a resource base for fibreshed products. Once that is in place we will create a membership directory that people can join.
We are working on a toolkit in partnership with South West England Fibreshed to connect farmers and designers who want to work together that will launch in January 2023
What is your vision for the future of fashion?
Fashion that is playful, creative, joyful, sombre or utilitarian, a whole spectrum of styles produced by designers working with inclusive, resilient regional networks of fibre and dye plant farmers, designers, makers and fibre processors. The garments will be produced within an equitable economic system so that everyone is paid fairly but also textiles will be valued and cherished so consumption will be within planetary and regional boundaries. The fibres would be grown within an agroecological system and processed using renewable energy. The hubs could include facilities for upcycling, mending and swapping as well as composting facilities. It might sound like a pipe dream but it is within our reach now if we want it, we have the knowledge and technology we just have to believe in a better system and act on our beliefs!
You can follow Deborah @field_folk on instagram
Awaken from Winter slumber, nature is bursting with new life.
The soil is warm enough to start planting and the days are long enough to allow plants to grow.
Taking advantage of the increased sunlight Plants have time to develop,
If you are interested in natural dyeing you can build your relationship with dye plants and grow your own?
Celebrate the fertility of earth. By planting seeds. By honouring the earth in this way, YOU can create a deeper connection with soil and growth.
A great little dye plant that is simple to grow is dyers coreopsis. It has been used medicinally for centuries as well as a natural dye producing a range of oranges.
Dyer's coreopsis, also known as tickseed, is a hardy and low-maintenance perennial plant that produces bright yellow flowers throughout the summer months. Here are some steps to help you grow it:
1. Choose the right location: Dyer's coreopsis thrives in full sun and well-drained soil. It can tolerate some drought but does not do well in soggy or waterlogged soil. Make sure to choose a location that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
2. Prepare the soil: Before planting, amend the soil with compost or other organic matter to improve drainage and fertility. Coreopsis prefers slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
3. Planting: Dyer's coreopsis can be started from seed or planted as nursery-grown plants. If starting from seed, sow them directly into the ground in early spring after the last frost date. If planting as nursery-grown plants, space them about 12-18 inches apart.
4. Watering: Coreopsis is drought-tolerant but will benefit from regular watering during dry spells, particularly when first establishing.
5. Fertilizing: Dyer's coreopsis does not require much fertilizer but will benefit from a light application of balanced fertilizer in early spring.
6. Pruning: Deadheading spent flowers will encourage the plant to produce more blooms throughout the season. In late fall, cut back the foliage to about 3 inches above ground level.
7. Pests and diseases: Dyer's coreopsis is generally pest and disease-resistant but may be susceptible to powdery mildew in humid conditions. To prevent this, avoid overhead watering and provide good air circulation around the plants.
Or you might like to try Dyers Weld.
Dyers weld/rocket, also known as Reseda luteola, is a plant that has been used for centuries to produce a yellow dye. If you're interested in growing dyers weld, there are a few important things to keep in mind.
Firstly, it's important to choose the right location for your plants. Dyers weld prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It can grow in a range of soil types, but prefers slightly alkaline soil with a pH of around 7.5.
Once you've chosen your location, you can start preparing the soil. Dig over the area and remove any weeds or debris. You may also want to add some organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to improve the soil structure.
Next, you can sow your dyers weld seeds. These should be sown in early spring, either directly into the ground or into pots or trays if you prefer. The seeds should be sown thinly and covered with a light layer of soil.
Once your plants have germinated, you'll need to thin them out so that they have enough space to grow. Aim for a spacing of around 30cm between plants.
Dyers weld doesn't require much maintenance once it's established. However, you may want to water your plants during dry spells and apply a general-purpose fertiliser once or twice during the growing season.
When it comes time to harvest your dyers weld plants, you'll need to cut them back to around 10cm above ground level. This will encourage new growth and ensure that you get a good crop of flowers the following year.
To extract the dye from your dyers weld plants, you'll need to chop up the leaves and stems and simmer them in water for several hours. The resulting liquid can then be strained and used as a dye for textiles or other materials.
With a little bit of effort, you can enjoy a bountiful crop of this historic dye plant.
It is that time of year again. As you walk the woodland paths you smell the scent of garlic as your feet crush the wild garlic leaves beneath you.
Wild garlic, also known as Allium ursinum or ramsons, is a perennial plant that is native to Europe and Asia. It is a member of the Allium family, which includes onions, leeks, and chives. It takes advantage of the early spring sun blooming before the canopy blocks out the light.
Wild garlic has been used for centuries for both culinary and medicinal purposes.
One of the main benefits of wild garlic is its high nutritional content. It is rich in vitamins A and C, as well as minerals such as iron and magnesium.
It has a long history of use in traditional medicine. It has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory infections, digestive issues, and skin conditions. Some studies have also suggested that wild garlic may have antiviral properties and could be effective against certain types of viruses.
We particularly love wild garlic because of its benefits for our skin. As a purifier it supports detoxification in the body giving us a healthy glow and its sulfur compounds have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties reducing redness or irritation. These compounds may help it to reduce the risk of certain diseases in the body such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.
In terms of culinary uses, wild garlic has a strong, pungent flavour that is similar to regular garlic but with a slightly milder taste. It can be used in a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, and sauces. Wild garlic leaves can also be used in salads or as a garnish.
Here is our favourite recipe for wild garlic pesto:
150g of wild garlic leaves
25g young nettle leaves
50g parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove finely chopped
½ lemon zested with a few squeezes of juice
50g toasted cashew nuts
150ml of olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a blender and whizz until smooth.
Transfer to a clean jam jar and keep in the fridge for 2 weeks.
Use on pasta, in salad dressings or in sandwich fillings.
Our Artist series continues this month and it doesn’t fail to disappoint with Katherine Preston, founder of Wayzgoose textiles who took up our knicker dyeing challenge.
Wayzgoose was founded with the aim to support heritage textile techniques. Katherine and her team take a holistic approach to the creation of her textiles, only working with entirely natural processes and materials.
As well as promoting regenerative & sustainable practices, Katherine and her team specialise in natural dyes, natural fibre & traditional printing processes.
Hello Katherine and thank you for being part of our artist series.
I have to ask. Where did the name Wayzgoose come from and why was it your chosen name for the business?
A wayzgoose was at one time an entertainment given by a master printer to his workmen each year on or about St Bartholomew's Day. It marked the traditional end of summer and the start of the season of working by candlelight. My husband discovered the word on the Oxford Dictionary ‘word of the day’ – since then, I always knew it would be the name of my studio.
What experience has been the greatest inspiration for what you do now at Wayzgoose?
My husband and I used to live in Myanmar, and during my time there, I ran a textile conservation programme for British NGO, Turquoise Mountain. The focus was to preserve and promote Myanmar’s rich textile heritage while working with weavers across multiple regions, using both backstrap and frame-loom weaving.
On Inle Lake in Shan State, cloth is created from lotus plants. The fibre is drawn from the stem of the lotus plant and spun by hand into yarn. Often the yarn is used in its natural state creating cloth from undyed and untreated fibre. The yarn is woven into cloth on a traditional treadle frame loom. The result: a beautiful textile created entirely from natural materials, made in one location.
Can you tell us a bit about what you do at Wayzgoose and what’s your favourite part of the job?
Returning from Myanmar in 2019 and marrying a farmer, I was interested to explore the possibilities of creating sustainably focused textiles on our farm in Buckinghamshire. Can beautiful yet commercially viable natural textiles be created here in the UK?
Over the last three years we have been trialling a handful of pilot projects on the farm, focusing on plant dyes and natural fibres.
We have grown a pilot crop of flax, which has been processed into linen yarn by Rosie Bristow, then I have dyed the fibre with homegrown Dyers Coreopsis. Later this year the yarn will be woven into a piece of cloth. We are growing flax again this year at a slightly larger scale. We are also experimenting with hemp now we have our licence. Although these fibres are relatively easy to grow, the challenges lie with the harvesting and the processing.
With seeds from Nature’s Rainbow, we have grown a small sample range of British plant dyes. This spring, we are hoping to plant a selection of British plant dyes at field scale.
The farm is a member of the Rare Breed Survival Trust. This we are processing fleece from Teeswaters and Dorset sheep.
Collectively, these projects are helping us to realise our dream of creating a totally natural, traceable cloth. And help us to establish what is commercially viable.
You dyed the GMD organic cotton knickers we gave you a beautiful colour.
Can you tell us the process about how you achieved this?
I dyed the knickers with some Dyers Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria), an annual flower dye plant that we grew on the farm last year. Once grown, the flowers can be dried and stored to use later. I used quite a strong dye bath to create this orange colour. I am loving wearing the knickers!
Why do you love working with natural dyes so much? Do you have a favourite?
I first fell in love with natural colour during my textiles degree. As part of our course, we learnt about chemical dyes as well as natural dyes. I was always shocked by the level of damage caused by chemical dyes. In our classes we were given technical sheets marked with capital letters highted in red, with all kinds of warnings: potential damage to our skin, always work with gloves and a mask, make sure you have good airflow, instruction on what to do ever you got a chemical dye in your eye, or if you swallowed it, how to safely dispose of the chemicals. A pretty terrifying list, that put me right off. I decided there and then not to work with synthetic colour. I spent my final year absorbed and experimenting with a technique now commonly called eco-printing.
I think my favourite would have to be Roselle (a Burmese hibiscus plant), but perhaps that is because is because it is my daughter’s middle name!
Bedstraw + Madder is a fashion label, Wayzgoose’s main customer is interiors is that correct?
Yes, we largely work with interior clients. I guess that is because I naturally am more connected to that world.
Thankfully there is now a lot of awareness around fast fashion, however, I think the concept of fast interiors (i.e. cheaply, mass-produced, synthetic fabrics for interiors) is a little behind. I am hoping that will change in the coming years.
We bumped into you at the Regenerative Agriculture fair Groundswell last year where you were on a panel with our co-founder Vanessa. That was a magical event.
What is your dream and vision for both these industries for the future and what part do you think regenerative agriculture plays within it, if at all?
I hope that we can encourage clients to stop and think before purchasing a textile. I want the encourage them to think about the origins of that piece. What fibres is it made from? Where are the fibres from? What journey have they been on before arriving in our home? What impurities do they carry? And what were the social and environmental costs to create them?
As designers today, it’s important to share information about the provenance of our materials and the environmental effects of manufacturing. We must aim to adopt regenerative and sustainable practises rather than using ones that detract from the natural world.
Imagine if we could have textiles in our home that were grown, dyed and woven in the UK.
I am not sure I am qualified to talk about regenerative agriculture!
Thank you, Katherine, we love what you do, keep up the important inspiring work!
You can find Wayzgoose at https://www.wayzgoose.uk
Or on Instagram @wayzgoosetextiles
Indigo can be used to dye any natural fibres. It gives beautiful shades of blue and is definitely one of our favourite natural dyes to work with as the process feels so magical.
The colour achieved depends on the type of vat, the concentration of indigo, and the number of dips.
Indigotin (the dye component of indigo powder) is insoluble in water, so to use it for dyeing it must be reduced to a water-soluble form.
All indigo vats need three things: 1) Indigo 2) A reducing agent 3) A Base.
Reducing agents are usually chemicals but we can use sugar instead.
A reducing agent lowers the oxidation state of the indigo molecule, transforming indigotin into leuco-indigo — which is soluble in water at room temperature. If we just add powdered indigo to water it will remain in pigment form, suspended but not dissolved.
In order for the reducing agent to act on the indigo, a basic environment is required. Chemically speaking, a base is the opposite of an acid. The reduction of indigo requires a basic (alkaline) solution. A recommended base for an indigo vat is calx (calcium hydroxide) also known as lime, pickling lime, or hydrated lime.
When the indigo is dissolved, the dye bath is a greeny-yellow colour. On the top of the vat, air oxidizes the indigo, resulting in blue indigo pigment. Resting on the bottom of the vat is the sediment consisting of any undissolved indigo, reducing agent or base.
Ahead of your cotton fabric you need to scour it. This removes any oils which may be sitting in the fabric. You can do this by washing in a washing machine at 40 degrees with some ecover detergent.
The Fructose Vat
Don’t forget to scour your cloth or yarn before dyeing.
For a vat of about 8 litres
— 30 g (1 oz) powdered natural indigo
— 90 g (3 oz) fructose
— 60 g (2 oz) calx (calcium hydroxide)
Fill a 10 litre (2.5 gallon) stainless steel vat 3/4 full with hot water.
Add the fructose and stir to dissolve.
Add the indigo to the vat. Sprinkle on the surface of the vat and stir in until well mixed.
Add half the calx (reserve the second half if you find you need to raise the pH). Sprinkle on the surface of the vat and stir the vat gently. Do not do too quickly. You do not want air in the liquid. Wait for a few minutes. Then stir again. Repeat this stirring three or four times.
Heat until the liquid reaches 50°C (120° F). You may then turn off the heat. In about 45 mins - hour the vat develops a bronzy surface and a small dark blue indigo flower. The interior of the vat will be a clear yellow green.
Fructose can be used to quickly build a strong vat. However, fructose vats can also collapse easily or be difficult to revive. For this reason, we recommend making a smaller vat when using fructose. A smaller vat also uses less indigo and so (if your vat collapses) there is less dye wasted.
Note: Sucrose (refined table sugar) is not a reducing sugar and so will not work.
In order to achieve the shibori effect on our knickers we used natural rubber elastic bands wrapped around each section of the knickers. Take a look at our instagram reels to see this process in action!
Enjoy experimenting with Indigo.
Tag us in your experiments @bedstrawandmadder
Happy Spring Equinox!
As we move from winter into spring, we reach a special time of year known as the Spring Equinox. It marks the halfway point between the winter and summer solstices. On this day we experience equal amounts of daylight and darkness, and we begin to see signs of new growth and renewal all around us.
We can feel the air warming and light creeping back into our lives and it is pleasant relief. Our energy is returning in a different, more productive and focussed way. The air smells different as the soil and plants stir into life. Now it is believed to be the time to trust in the alchemy of the sun, the soil, water and air to fertilise your creations.
With that in mind we have been busy with a new creation for you... our shibori indigo dyed knickers. All the comfort and softness of our GMD classic knicker dyed with the botanical benefits of Indigo.
Natural indigo dyeing is a process that has been used for centuries to create beautiful, rich blue hues on fabrics. Unlike synthetic dyes, natural indigo is derived from the leaves of the indigo plant (Indigofera tinctoria) which is part of the legume family.
It has been found on the wrappings of mummies in tombs and was used by samurai warriors to dye their undergarments and protect any wounds they gained in battle from infection.
We love Indigo and chose it to dye our knickers for so many reasons…
Natural indigo is a renewable resource that is grown and harvested in many parts of the world. It requires less water than synthetic dyes and does not produce harmful chemicals or by products.
The colour produced by natural indigo dyeing is unique and cannot be replicated by synthetic dyes. The shade of blue varies depending on the fabric, the method of dyeing, and the amount of time the fabric is soaked in the dye.
Indigo natural dye is prized for its medicinal properties. The dye has been used to treat a variety of skin conditions and has also been found to have numerous health benefits particularly for the skin. It has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe irritated skin and reduce redness. It also has antibacterial properties that can help fight acne-causing bacteria. Additionally, indigo natural dye is rich in antioxidants, which can help protect the skin from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage cells and contribute to aging.
It has been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive issues, respiratory problems, and fever. It is also believed to have anti-cancer properties due to its ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
If that wasn’t enough, it has an ability to promote hair growth and prevent premature greying of hair. It is also believed to have a calming effect on the mind and body, making it a popular choice for aromatherapy.
Once you start working with Indigo you can definetly fall in love with it. The beautiful tones of blue you can produce are next to none and you get a real sense of reviving a bit of our history.
You can buy a pair of indigo dyed knickers here.
Today we have the honour of introducing you to the queen of herbalism herself Lucy of The Myrobalan clinic in Castle Cary. I met Lucy when I first moved to Dorset about 10 years ago and she has been supporting my health ever since.
What I love most is Lucy’s close relationships and intimate knowledge of the plants themselves which she has nurtured through foraging and growing them herself. Unlike a lot of herbalists, she creates her own powerful tinctures.
I was often told that the herbs that grow around us are the ones we most need and those grown in hotter countries are the most powerful just as plant dyes grown in hotter countries provide brighter colours. Is there any truth in this?
In general, I love the idea that our local environment offers us everything we need to be healthy. It’s true that the plants which grow around us are very often the ones that are best suited to our constitution but then there’s also the situation where a herb suddenly appears when we need it. Let me give you a few examples:
One of my patients was establishing a new garden and found that a huge amount of Shepherd’s Purse sprung up where the soil had been cultivated. A few months later she realised that she needed fresh Shepherd’s Purse to help resolve heavy menstrual bleeding. Shepherds Purse is amazing at treating excessive bleeding, whether that’s post partum or heavy menstrual bleeding but to be most effective it must be prepared with fresh plant. This person was able to gather fresh Shepherd’s Purse for teas and it really helped her.
An elderly patient found Eyebright in her field after many years of it not growing there. That same season she developed quite irritated sore eyes and was able to make an Eyebright eye wash which she described as a ‘life saver’.
One last example, a patient of mine was a very keen gardener who liked to grow vegetables, herbs and fruit. He never used chemicals but always kept everything weed free and tidy. One evening, I was just packing up to go home from my clinic and he rang me complaining of a sudden painful urinary tract infection. He wanted to avoid antibiotics so I suggested that the best thing to help him was Couch grass, however I realised it was unlikely that he would have any growing in his garden. He said: “On the contrary, I do actually have a patch of Couch which has sprung up this year and I decided to leave it”. He harvested some rhizomes and made a tea straight away. Within two days he was absolutely fine.
There are lots of stories like this. I love that they illustrate the value of noticing and having a relationship with the plants around us.
Having said all of this, I also feel that having some herbal influences from further afield can be very helpful when needed. As someone who’s also trained in Tibetan Medicine, I like to prescribe spicy medicines such as Cardamom, Cloves, Chilli and Ginger alongside locally grown medicines.
It's very interesting that you say plant dyes grown in hotter countries are brighter. I hadn’t really thought about that before but yes of course that really makes sense. There’s a stronger element of ‘fire’ in plants grown in hot climates and one of the qualities of the fire element is having or resulting in a stronger colour.
There are lots of herbalists out there and thankfully it is growing in interest.
What makes your herbalism unique?
Goodness, that’s quite a question! I think that in general, herbal medicine is very much about the relationship between practitioner, patient and the herbs. There’s a very special alchemy that happens when these three things come together. For that reason, you can say that all herbal practitioners offer a unique approach. We all share the objective of treating people with herbal medicine but within that there’s a lovely range of therapeutic approaches. This is wonderful because it means that patients can choose a practitioner that really resonates with them and helps them to feel comfortable in their health journey.
Re my herbalism being unique, I suppose you could say that my own way of working is unusual because the majority of the herbs that I prescribe have been grown or gathered by me, and all of the herbs I prescribe have been processed by hand into medicines. There’s a lot of care and mindfulness which goes into the process from seed to medicine and it’s an absolute joy to work in this way.
Another unique point is that, although I’m a western herbal practitioner based in the west, my approach is also very strongly influenced by Tibetan medicine. Tibetan medicine is a beautiful and sophisticated system based on a deep appreciation of interconnectedness and respect for the Earth and the medicines which come from it. In Tibetan Medicine it’s actually considered unethical to prescribe medicines to patients if lifestyle and dietary factors haven’t been addressed first. I think that this is very wise since it helps patients to truly understand how to stay well. In my clinic, herbal treatment is most often a temporary support whilst a patient makes the required lifestyle changes. This approach means that patients don’t become dependent on a herbalist or their medicines. It also means that the herbs are at less risk of being over exploited. When I say ‘over exploited’, I’m thinking about when people take a scarce herb daily to prop up an unsustainable lifestyle. If someone is taking a scarce herb like Slippery Elm or Goldenseal every day because it allows them to continue to live a lifestyle which basically makes them ill, this exploits their body as well as the ecology of our planet. A small change in lifestyle or diet could make all the difference to their health and it could reduce their need to contribute to over harvesting of scarce or protected species.
Your second book: ‘A Working Herbal Dispensary – Respecting Herbs as Individuals’ is due out in May. It’s about the virtues of herbs themselves and you talk about getting people to know herbs as individuals rather than lists of 'what they do'.
Clearly you have a strong relationship with each of the herbs you gather and prescribe. How do you build and deepen the relationship you have with the plants you work with?
I think it’s inevitable that, when we grow, gather and process our own herbal medicines, we can’t help but to build a deep connection with them. It’s not even a conscious thing, it just happens as though the herb has seeped into our very being. For example, if you’ve spent many hours picking Calendula flowers in the right weather conditions, carefully laying them onto drying trays, tending them to make sure that they’re dried properly and then storing them in a way that ensures their medicinal constituents are preserved, you inevitably really care about them making a difference and not being wasted.
Also, when we work with herbs regularly, we’re constantly blown away by how amazingly positive their influence can be. These plant beings really change people’s lives. Once we start to see that, we have to respect them as beings in their own right, as opposed to objects which can be ‘used’ to treat certain health conditions.
I do sometimes sit with my herbs and I keep a contemplative herbal journal. I do feel that this deepens my relationship with them and it often brings new insights but honestly the majority of my herbal relationship building activities are just through working with herbs day in and day out. We’ve formed quite a team over the years.
What is your favourite plant or herbal combination and why?
I don’t have favourites as I love all of my herbs but I will tell you about one wonderful combination that I prescribe quite often. That is Rose and Hawthorn. These are both members of the Rose family and share a calming and uplifting quality which can be very helpful for patients who are in the process of working through a bereavement or digesting a past trauma. In these cases, the pressure to try and put on a brave face or to carry on with normal life responsibilities can lead to the grief or trauma being held in their bodies rather than being processed gradually. Sometimes this situation of holding grief can last for many years and people may be unaware of how much is still ‘stuck’.
Rose petals have a longstanding association with gladdening the heart as well as gently supporting the liver. Hawthorn is well known as a herb which helps to support the physical heart but in doing so it also helps the heart area to release emotional trauma and grief. When prescribing this combination, I choose Rose petals and Hawthorn blossom either as a tea or in capsule form. It’s quite extraordinary to see how they gently support people in navigating this difficult and challenging emotional terrain. The change is gradual and steady, it doesn’t suppress our feelings but it I holds our hands while we face them. I’ve lost count of the times that, after taking a course of this pair of herbs, patients have told me “I’d forgotten what it was like to feel spontaneously happy and now I sing to myself whilst I’m walking the dog or working in the garden.”
For the people out there who feel empowered to start their own herbal first aid cabinet at home what is your advice? Where can they start?
Ooooh this is a great question! There’s so much scope to make herbs a central part of a home first aid cabinet. I would suggest that the best thing to do is to be curious about the herbs which grow in your area and find out which virtues they have. There are plenty of resources online and lots of herbal books to choose from.
For example, if you have Plantain leaves (Plantago lanceolata or Plantago major) growing in your garden, you have a fabulous first aid plant right there. It’s perfect for insect bites and stings, blisters, burns and cuts. It can be applied as a poultice or you can make it into an ointment or salve. You can also drink it as a tea to help soothe inflammation in the gut, urinary tract or to help calm an irritated cough.
To start with the herbs that are growing in your area means that you can properly get to know them, see them growing and observe them at different growth stages. You can easily research their properties and see how they can fit into your home first aid cabinet. It’s about understanding their many virtues not just categorising them as ‘this herb is used for that situation’.
As well as being curious about the herbs growing in your locality, I would also suggest learning about the medicinal virtues of common kitchen spices. These are a great resource as they are readily available and a handy first aid option if you are away from your home apothecary. So, Caraway seed is a great option to calm diarrhoea and to relieve griping. Garlic is a powerful natural antibiotic and Nutmeg can be helpful to encourage better sleep.
I’m so passionate about encouraging people to build up their own home herbal apothecary that I’ve included lots of ‘recipes for the home apothecary’ in my new book.
What are your favourite books on herbalism?
I absolutely love Matthew Wood’s “The Book of Herbal Wisdom”. I think I’ve read it from cover to cover more than a dozen times and every time I read it, I learn something new. Writing this answer has made me want to pick it up again!
I also love the old herbals and I often refer to Culpeper for example. There are loads of wonderful more modern herbal books too. I have far too many of them. If you’re confused as to which book to choose I recommend having a look at the Aeon Books catalogue for inspiration as they have a great selection and good descriptions to help you decide.
You have a training in forestry and agriculture. How has this knowledge helped you as a herbalist?
It does seem an odd career move to go from large scale plant production to being a small scale herbal practitioner but looking back on it I can see how much my agricultural and forestry training has influenced me and helped me as a herbalist. I feel very fortunate in that I’ve been taught about soils and ecosystems so I find it easy to ‘read’ the landscape and predict where certain medicinal plants are likely to be found. I was also taught about hay making. The knowledge I gained from understanding how to dry and produce good quality hay, really influenced my understanding about how best to dry herbs. I realised early on that many of the commercially available dried herbs are not well dried and have lost much of their potency. I understood what had contributed to these problems and I was confident that I could produce vibrant well dried and potent herbs. I got my first dehydrator and started the process of learning how best to achieve that. Producing good quality vibrant herbs was one of the main drivers of me starting to be more self-sufficient in the herbs that I prescribed.
Before you go.
How important do you feel it is for us to reconnect to our herbal heritage on a global level?
I think that this is incredibly important. Three quarters of people in the world rely on herbal medicine for their primary health care. For herbs to support these people in perpetuity we need to safeguard both traditional herbal knowledge and the habitats that support plants being gathered for medicine. Even in so called ‘developed countries’ there’s a great need to be more sustainable in our health choices. A culture of preventive medicine and home herbal apothecaries will help to keep people healthier and will take some pressure off our healthcare systems. Imagine if more families were able to turn to herbal medicine for some of the common health conditions that crop up. This would reduce pressure on GP’s and lessen the cost and environmental impact associated with our over reliance on allopathic medicines.
I want to make it clear that I’m not suggesting that we should completely replace the allopathic healthcare model though. Not at all! I’m very glad to live in a country where we have access to amazing high tech healthcare when we need it. Wouldn’t it be lovely though if more people felt empowered and able to stay healthier through their daily lifestyle and dietary choices and by knowing which herbs to take when they need support? Connecting with our herbal heritage could help us to keep episodes of ill health as just temporary ‘blips’ rather than them evolving into more serious and debilitating chronic diseases.
Herbal medicine is natural medicine and traditional medicine. When we connect with it and take care of it we are taking care of our precious planet.
You can find Lucy at www.myrobalanclinic.com
We believe the smallest of changes can have a positive ripple effect. By infusing our organic textiles with medicinal properties our plant based products can have a naturally good effect on your skin.
Bedstraw + Madder's Co founder Vanessa Barker, recently visited herbal wear founder Sunil Rathod in Andhra Pradesh (India) to learn some new tricks with Ayurvedic natural dyeing.
The results are a sappan wood and madder pink, limited edition version of our new GMD knicker that starts our basket range of limited edition and one-off pieces using natural dyes.
Each item celebrating the power of plant power and craftsmanship. Each piece a unique work of art. Providing you with a completly chemical free experience. Clothing that has a positive effect on the environment and actively revives it. And natural plant pigments that support your body too!
In addition to the pink dye bath Sunil shared a yellow Ayurvedic recipe using ancient wisdom and only natural non toxic ingredients such as Tacoma Flowers and Turmeric.
Try experimenting yourself at home on a pair of our undyed GMD knickers.
Ayurvedic Natural Dye Recipe
250gms of soap nuts
Undyed GMD knickers
3 handfuls of each Tacoma flowers, Kadukai, maribilium, 3 types of turmeric, Tolsi,
1 cup each of Thick leaf lavender and aloe Vera
250 gms of soap nuts added to 5 litres of boiling water. After 30 minutes ash water is added, with no use of alum mordant to fix colour to fabrics.
Pure ash is created from burning any biomass and mixing with water.
To make wood ash water, remove the wood ash from a wood-burning stove, put it in a bucket or large lidded container and fill up with water. Leave the mixture to soak for a minimum of 1 week. By this time the liquid will have become yellow in colour and feel "slick" or slimy to the touch. To use it as an alkaline modifier, remove the liquid without disturbing the ash sediment and soak the materials in it, adding more water as necessary. It is best not to apply heat as this can harm woollen fibres. We filled up a small mason jar 1/3 full with wood ash then filled the jar 2/3 full with water, closed the jar and shook everything up.
Our undyed natural organic cotton, unbleached knickers are then washed with the hot soap nuts solution. This is known as scouring and allows the colour to be absorbed.
Add ingredients Tacoma flowers, Kadukai, maribilium, 3 types of turmeric, Tolsi, Thick leaf lavender and aloe Vera to boiling hot water to create the herbal soup and cook on a stove or open fire for a further 45 minutes, then strain to leave the remaining milky mud coloured residue.
Add our Classic GMD ecru to the brew and continue to heat at temp of about 60 degrees to embue with yellow tones.
You can use string or elastic tied around the knickers in a small bundle to create your own unique patterns.
For the second of our artist series, we are very happy to be talking to Scottish artist (who lives in Wales), Sarah Poland.
Sarah draws upon natural elements and materials, meditation and transformation for her work. She has always been particularly drawn to Northern and landscapes on the edge, always seeking to live within these spaces. The presence of landscape and being in it is a source of her work and her recent paintings. We asked Sarah to exchange her canvas for our knickers. We are looking forward to sharing her results.
Sarah we were delighted you took up the challenge of making a pair of our GMD knickers uniquely your own. Is that the first time you have dyed your clothing?
It isn't, as a 20 something I would transform and dye my clothes using Dylon machine dyes. But during the first pandemic lockdown I started exploring natural dyes. I'm a painter but I have a degree in fashion design and a Masters in fine art, my solo exhibition this year will include a natural dyed and painted mini collection.
Tell us about the process, what you did with them and how you feel about the result?
It's exciting to be asked to collaborate on this project. Since 2021 I have been developing a dye bed in my garden. I harvested coreopsis flowers most days all summer and dried them to be used when I was ready. I haven't used coreopsis before so it was exciting to discover a new colour. For my art work, I usually make a big dye bath in an old cast iron bath with a fire underneath and dye about 6 metres of canvas. The knickers went in a large stainless steel pan with some smaller pieces of fabric and hundreds of dried coreopsis flowers.
Once dyed and dried I painted on two different modifiers. Bicarbonate of soda and separately iron. Where there is just bicarb, the colour will gradually fade with washing but where it meets the iron it will last longer. So for now, there are 4 colours and it will evolve to 3. It’s pretty cool considering I only used one dye colour.
You live in a special place, in a nomadic studio within an ancient oak woodland. It sounds very romantic. How did you find it and why is its position so crucial for inspiring your work?
Ah yes, the Nomadic Studio. I'm no longer in it, I out grew it with my family and needed somewhere larger again to work in too. It has become our spare room for now.
It started when I lived in West Cornwall. I was there for 10 years and before leaving, I let go of my large studio and bought an old removals lorry. With some help, I converted it into a live-in space with a 2m sq studio space in the back half. I wanted to travel and to be able to work. I had p.v. panels, a wood burner, full size kitchen sink, lights, a cold tap, a camping cooker, oven and a laptop. Completely off-grid but not digital free, the laptop was essential for keeping in touch with galleries and friends, cataloguing work and research. I also had a cat-flap - my travel companions were my cat and dog, they would argue over the front 2 passenger seats when we travelled! I also borrowed a mini etching press, clamped it to the studio table and made a series of drypoint etchings. It was amazing, I had a large skylight over the studio and could open the barn doors at the back which revealed a 2m sq window to shield me from the weather which could also be opened. Like you say, it was romantic, but I'd say it was equally tough.
My first journey was back up to the Scottish Highlands where I'm from. Heading South, I then landed in an 80 acre ancient oak woodland in West Wales where my then boyfriend, now husband, had gone to teach himself timber-framing. His friends' Dad owned it. This stop-off was really crucial to where my practice is now and we ended up staying for 5 years. So there was a timber framer and a blacksmith who were literally using the woodland for their materials and I realised that I also wanted to do this. I wanted to make work 'of the woodland' and not just about it or depicting it. One day, the owners' son casually mentioned that ink could be made using oak galls and that was it, I was all over the internet looking up the history and recipes for making the ink. It is nick-named 'ink of kings, poets and monks'. It doesn't get more romantic that that really! This was in 2011, I've been exploring and pushing the limits of oak gall ink since - a veritable chemistry lab in my studio.
Can you tell us about oak gall ink, why you love it and how we can make it?
Oak gall ink in indelible, it doesn't fade like most other plant colours and it can't be washed off like most other inks. The black is so rich and velvety. There are many colours which last a reasonable length of time but oak gall ink holds a special quality.
Oak galls or oak apples, are created by the oak tree in a genetic reaction to protect itself from the gall wasp which lays it's eggs on a twig or a leaf. The tree surrounds the egg with a marble-sized apple-coloured ball. It starts hard and green and ripens to a blush red and yellow. Once ripe, the larva eats it's way out leaving a little hole and flies off - you can tell if the larva has flown because of the hole. These 'apples' then harden and dry to a brown colour which can be smashed into a powder to use.
From the outside it's a pretty basic chemistry. The galls are very high in tannic and gallo tannic acids, tannins basically, like in red wine. When you mix tannins with iron salts and water it created an ink. If you've ever left an axe in an oak chopping log for example, after some rain and oxidation (air) there will be a black mark around it, that is the ink. The oak galls contain even more tannins than the wood.
I love the whole process, the collecting, the chemistry, creating my own materials, the non-toxic qualities of it and it's history is pretty interesting too, for example, the Magna Carta was written using it as well as surviving manuscripts from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci even used it! You can buy the stuff but it's very expensive, those little galls are hard won. If you'd like to make your own there are many free recipes on the internet. You can start by searching out those oak galls and some rusty nails.
Do you work with other natural colour/mediums? If so, what is your favourite and how do you use it?
In 2020 I started to broaden my palette by foraging locally for botanical colour and using kitchen scraps such as onion skins. In 2021 I created a dye bed and started growing colour that I couldn't forage for easily. For obvious reasons, I like to use the more permanent colours in my art works - there are so many colours out there but some can fade very quickly. It was then that I started not to just use ink but to dye the canvas first. Dyeing large lengths of canvas then naturally led to making clothes again.
I do like using native plants and stories always deepen our connection to the colours. For example, woad blue and weld yellow was used in Robin Hoods time to make Lincoln green. It's nice to see colours in their own environment. I've got a thing about pink and yellow together - there are so many yellows, I like weld and gorse, and madder root makes pink. You'll see this in my exhibition and collection.
I love this description from your website, “my recent paintings are also about breathing, about what we yearn for and the space in our head created when being caught off guard by something and it takes us away from our physical reality for a moment”. I get the sense you have to spiritually prepare yourself before starting a piece of work. Can you tell us how you do this and what your rituals are?
Well, I think that there really isn't a difference between art and life. Everything I do feeds into my art and if it doesn't, I don't tend to prioritise it. Having said that, my influences are varied and range from, walking, dance and circus, literature, wild swimming, surfing, writing, music, the list goes on.
Since having children my studio has become a quiet still place and I started a meditation practice in May 2021 which has really fed into my work. I have in many ways turned my painting practice on it's head and have committed to a new way of working. It is slower, whiter, calmer, has more space and uses natural materials. It all sounds a bit dreamy but I still work incredibly intensively and have a ritual of taking a good strong coffee into the studio with me.
My current routine involves meditating for up to 2 hours most mornings, I alternate the school drop off with my husband and then enter the space. I like the idea that coffee connects me to other creatives and intellectuals, a kind of tuning in. I have been inspired by coffee culture, particularly of the Beat Generation and also in Europe.
I have a night ritual too. In phases, on a full moon, I take my camera and go for a night walk, photographing the moon and making drawings.
I like to work on a body of work as a whole and work on many pieces at once, solo exhibitions are my favourite because it is an opportunity to show a whole project. Once I'm working on this I don't look at other peoples work as it can be a distraction. I often start by making lots of work on paper all the same size and I write. By the time I've finished, I have all of the titles ready and just have to allocate them to the right pieces. There is a kind of holistic quality to the process.
You can find Sarah @sarahpolandstudio and https://www.sarahpoland.co.uk/
Sarah's solo exhibition Silence - The Messenger and The Metaphor at Elysium Gallery, Swansea opens on 20th May 2023. The exhibition continues until 1st July.
Thank you Sarah for being part of this project.
Interview with Zoe from Wunder Workshop
Today I am excited to talk to friend and colleague Zoe LVH who with her boyfriend Tom set up Wunder workshop in 2014 creating products for people and planet inspired by intuitive herbalism and Ayurveda.
Their focus is on Consumption with Purpose®- by harvesting the power of regeneratively grown plants for ultimate wellness rituals.
Wunder translates to miracle, and they focus on plants that have a quality that can be classed as such.
Zoe, Wunder workshop has very strong core values which translate from the people you work with, to product and all the way to packaging. Tell us about these and how they lead your decisions when it come sourcing for your business?
For me it is essential to know and connect, as much as possible, to the origin of all the things we consume in any way or form. Especially as a business owner I think this is our duty, as I believe we cannot sell health or wellbeing products without putting the health of the planet and the farmers in the forefront.
I try to do this by sourcing from regenerative farms and small community farms to support a way of life that is beyond sustainability - by regenerating depleted soils and support the upkeep or creation of biodiverse food forests. These concepts are part of indigenous knowledge and not new inventions. We think it is important to celebrate the wisdom keepers of nature and see it as a reminder that we are one with nature.
Hence why it’s essential for us to consider every element of the value chain, from soil, ingredients, packaging, to the consumer.
As pioneers of regenerative clothing, we love finding products using regenerative ingredients. Organic Turmeric was one of your first products was it not. Can you tell us about this ingredient, why you chose it and why yours is so special?
I fell in love with turmeric as a child when my late-mother would use it in cooking and make delicious golden porridge. Those memories of a cosy warm porridge with it’s bright yellow colour are still one of the reasons I think why I adore yellow and the warmth it radiates.
Later, during my late teens we would visit very down-to-earth ayurvedic retreats in Sri Lanka to learn more about Ayurveda and their incredible holistic approach to health. Because I always have a very bad reaction to mosquito bites, the ayurvedic doctor would create a golden bath/paste to sooth the inflammation and itchiness (and leave me pretty yellow for a few days!) but I was again amazed by its beautiful properties and how healing this plant can be. That’s when I decided in my twenties to learn more about turmeric farming, and I went back to Sri Lanka to visit families who grow turmeric. This is when the idea for Wunder Workshop blossomed, and that’s when I decided to work with this incredible spice after seeing how it was grown in the most biodiverse setting, surrounded by ginger, black pepper, jackfruit, vanilla and many more beautiful plants. This to me was the most beautiful way of “farming”. Since then, for nearly 10 years, we have been sourcing from the same community farms in Sri Lanka, and it’s still the most radiant and powerful turmeric I have come across.
You talk about forest garden certification on your website. Can you tell us a little about what this is and perhaps how it compares to other certification bodies like soil association or ROC?
It’s based on a traditional Sri Lankan way of farming, it creates and maintains small food-forests by planting trees and crops together that each play a specific role whether that is creating shade for the smaller plants, repelling pests, and or trading nutrients through their roots. This creates a very natural biodiverse setting, that feeds the microworld and the macroworld. The micro world being the world inside the soil, the fungi and bacteria that nurture the roots and the plants, plus attracting all the beautiful insects that pollinate more plants. It’s different to organic certificates (which we also have), as Forest Gardens focus not only on whether pesticides have been added to the farming process, but it looks at a more holistic angle at the health and the biodiversity of the farm. Organic farming is great, and should be the very foundation of all farming, but it really needs to go beyond that as organic farms are often still mono-cultural farms which don’t put soil health or biodiversity at the forefront.
You have a lot of beautiful products clearly made with a strong set of intentions.
What is the process you go through when developing a new product? Are they all developed by you?
Thank you! Yes, we really approach product development from two angels, one being the more personal experience and secondly the ingredient and farm itself. For example, Golden Shrooms was a product that I created during my time at university, when I loved going out dancing at night but didn’t want to take drugs, so I would take medicinal mushrooms such as cordyceps instead, which are great for stamina and endurance.
But for most of our products we start at the other side of the process, we usually start from the farm or ingredient. It’s the farmers and nature that inspire us to work with them and then we think of the best way of presenting these ingredients and the packaging, which is just another ingredient, before we establish what product we will create with it. The health of the soil is our priority and from there all things bloom.
Is circularity of your products very important for you? Tell us about your packaging choices?
I have spent so many days, or years studying the ins and outs of the packaging world. It’s constantly innovating but I try to create products that can be packaged the best possible way in the time we are in. Often there are great new ideas for packaging such as for example biodegradable items, but they are only commercially biodegradable (and our current waste management system isn’t set up for that yet). So, circularity and renewable materials are the best option for now, hence why I focus on a combination of having home- compostable materials, reusable jars and metal or paper lids. Pipettes are my biggest frustration for which I still haven’t found a solution, as there isn’t an environmentally friendly solution out there (to my knowledge) but we ask our customers to keep their pipettes and reorder our CBD oil without it. And it’s so rewarding to see how many people reorder their CBD oil without the pipette!
Winter can feel hard on our bodies and mental health. Can you give us some advice as to which of your products might be useful to support us at this time of year and likewise some of your favourite ingredients we should incorporate into our diets if we can?
Absolutely, I struggle with the grey sky sometimes, and I find great comfort in taking my Bear Hug tincture, which helps me feel less gloomy. One of its ingredients is mustard flower essence which is known on an energetic level for bringing more contentment and peace into ones lives.
I also integrate Chaga mushroom into my routine during the winter, as it’s one of nature’s most powerful immunomodulators.
Do you have a favourite daily ritual that has been an anchor and support to you and might just help us all sail through 2023?
Most mornings I hold a small tea ceremony with myself. I gifted myself a beautiful tea set last year, and I sit in stillness for 20minutes to fully immerse myself in the process of pouring the tea, absorbing the aroma and then drinking it slowly. I do about 3 rounds of this with the same batch of tea leaves, and it really helps me to be fully present. I sometimes struggle with meditation so I have found tea ceremony my ideal way of coming to inner stillness. You can use any loose leaf tea, I sometimes use a Japanese green tea and on days where I don’t want any caffeine I use our Goddess Tea.
Thank you, Zoe.
Discover all Zoe and Tom’s wonderful products at www.wunderworkshop.com
Warming Mushroom Tonic Recipe: