An Easter without dyed Easter eggs wouldn't be much fun at all. And why waste money on artificial Easter egg dye, especially when you've already grown your own natural Easter grass and made a basket from recycled containers?
Natural egg dye is easy to make using berries, vegetables, and spices, and you can create just about any color you want, from pastels to deep hues. The results vary from batch to batch, which adds to the fun in my book. In some cases you can have your dye and eat it, too! We will be having pickled red cabbage some night soon, with mashed berries over ice cream for desert. Even if you don't eat the dye leftovers, you can toss them in the compost pile.
At our farm, eggs come in creams, browns, olive, and even pale blue-green—right from the chickens—so we usually enjoy those as is (you can dye non-white eggs if you enjoy the antiqued shades you will get). For clear, bright colors you’ll want to use white eggs. Store-bought eggs are ready to hard-boil as soon as you get them home, but if you buy eggs directly from a farmer, you'll need to wait until they're a week old. Fresher eggs haven't absorbed enough air to make an air pocket inside, and the result will be almost impossible to peel.
Prepping Your Eggs
Most folks I know dye hard-boiled eggs, but you can also blow the stuffing out of raw eggs and dye the empty shells. To blow a raw egg, you need either a heavy pin (a corsage pin is good) or a long, sharp needle, and a plastic straw (the kind with a bend in it). Use the pin to poke a hole slightly larger then the end of the straw in one end of the egg, and carefully remove the bits of shell. Insert the pin through the hole and stir the contents to break them up a bit.
Hold the hole end of the egg over a bowl, insert the straw into the hole and blow into the other end to force air into the shell. This will cause the yolk to come out the same hole you're blowing into, which is why it's important to make the initial hole bigger than your straw. Rinse the inside of the empty shell and let it dry.
Make Your Dye
Most natural dyes will take longer to work than synthetic dyes—sometimes overnight—so be sure to allow sufficient time to prepare the dye and dye the eggs.
Many common foods and spices make great dyes. Here are a few to start with, along with the resulting color:
Yellow onion skins = Yellow to dark orange
Turmeric or cumin = Bright yellow
Red beets = Pink to red
Red onion skins = Pale purple to red
Red cabbage = Blue (strange, but true)
Spinach = Green
Purple grape juice (use as is) = Lavender
Coffee (use as is) = Tan to brown
Chili powder = Orange
Raspberries or blackberries = Pink to purple
Yellow or green apple peels = Yellow-green
To make the dye, take 4 cups of chopped or mashed fruits and veggies, or 4 Tablespoons of spice, and boil them in 4 cups of water (use less if you're working with watery produce, such as spinach) and 2 Tablespoons of white vinegar. Let that simmer for 30 minutes. Then, strain out the bits of fruits or vegetables, and the remaining liquid is your dye.
Have fun trying other items you may have around: If it’s brightly colored and stains your cutting board or fingers, chances are good it will stain eggshells nicely too.
If the eggs have soaked overnight and the color still isn’t intense enough, carefully transfer the dye and eggs to a small saucepan and gently simmer them for up to 30 minutes.
While solid-color eggs are attractive, you can make some of your eggs a bit fancier with wax. Using a crayon or an old candle, make designs on the eggs before soaking them in the dye. The waxed areas will remain undyed. You can also wrap rubber bands tightly around the egg to achieve the same effect.
Naturally dyed eggs will have a matte finish. If you want them to shine, apply a few drops of olive or other vegetable oil and polish with a soft cloth. If you plan to eat your colored hard-boiled eggs, store them in the fridge and eat them within a week. If you want to use them as decorations at room temperature for more than an hour or two, put them in the compost when the holiday is over.
Farm gal, library worker, and all-around spendthrift Jean Nick shares advice for green thrifty living every Thursday on Rodale.com.