Vibrant, Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs

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This time of year there are some pretty amazing craft-tastic ideas online and in magazines, making it entirely possible to devote days to creating museum-quality ova, but I prefer a less design-y and more rustic approach. After all, they're eggs you might be stashing somewhere in the lawn. And with a small child in the house, this is not a project likely to involve X-Acto knives and tiny electrical tape stencils.

Easter is a reminder of fertility and abundance, so I say turn on nature's color and let loose.

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The tradition of dying Easter eggs has wandered in many directions throughout history, from the early practice of staining eggs red in remembrance of Christ's blood to what a lot of kids will tell you now: they color eggs to make them look like jelly beans.

A few years I wrote about dyeing eggs with onion skins, which gives the eggs a pretty spectacular result, especially if you rub them with oil to add shine. Last year I took the idea of coloring eggs with vegetable scraps a step further and created a larger palette. This year we'll push it further, and as the kids around me get older, we just might add a few extra flourishes. No razors and making tape, but maybe a few of those rubber band tricks. I'll let you know.
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Keep in mind the effect of the dyes varies depending on how concentrated the dye is, what color egg you use, and how long the eggs are immersed in the dye. I used half a purple cabbage, shredded, to dye four eggs. Err on the side of more material rather than less when creating your dye. Here's a handy guide to follow:

Naturally-Dyed Easter Eggs

Per cup of water use:

  • 1 cup chopped purple cabbage — makes blue on white eggs, green on brown eggs
  • 1 cup red onion skins — makes lavender or red eggs
  • 1 cup yellow onion skins — makes orange on white eggs, rusty red on brown eggs
  • 1 cup shredded beets — makes pink on white eggs, maroon on brown eggs
  • 2 tablespoons ground turmeric — makes yellow eggs
  • 1 bag Red Zinger tea — makes lavender eggs

→ Add 1 tablespoon white vinegar to every cup of strained dye liquid

→ For every dozen eggs, plan on using at least 4 cups of dye liquid

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How to Make Naturally-Dyed Easter Eggs

Makes 1 dozen eggs

1 dozen hard-cooked eggs, room temperature, or white and brown eggs, preferably not super-fresh
4 cups dye liquid made from any of the following:

  • 1 cup chopped purple cabbage per cup of water — makes blue on white eggs, green on brown eggs
  • 1 cup red onion skins per cup of water — makes lavender or red eggs
  • 1 cup yellow onion skins per cup of water— makes orange on white eggs, rusty red on brown eggs
  • 1 cup shredded beets per cup of water— makes pink on white eggs, maroon on brown eggs
  • 2 tablespoons ground turmeric per cup of water — makes yellow eggs
  • 1 bag Red Zinger tea per cup of water— makes lavender eggs

1 tablespoon white vinegar per cup of strained dye liquid
Neutral oil, such as vegetable or grapeseed

Pour the amount of water you need for the dye you're making into a saucepan — you can make 4 separate batches of different colors or 1 large batch of a single color; follow the ratios given above for each ingredient to make more or less dye.

Add the dye matter (purple cabbage, onion skins, etc.) and bring the water to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer, covered, for 15 to 30 minutes. The dye is ready when it reaches a hue a few shades darker than you want for your egg. Drip a little dye onto a white dish to check the color. When the dye is as dark as you like, remove the pan from the heat and let the dye cool to room temperature. (I put the pot on my fire escape and it cooled off in about 20 minutes.)

Pour the cooled dye through a fine-mesh strainer into another saucepan (or into a bowl then back into the original pan if that's all you have). Stir the vinegar into the dye — use 1 tablespoon of vinegar per cup of strained liquid.

Arrange the room-temperature eggs in single layer in a baking dish or other container and carefully pour the cooled dye over them. Make sure the eggs are completely submerged.

Transfer the eggs in the dye to the refrigerator and chill until the desired color is reached. Carefully dry the eggs, and then massage in a little oil to each one. Polish with a paper towel. Store the eggs in the refrigerator until it is time to eat (or hide) them.

Recipe Notes:

You can also start with raw eggs and cook them in the dye bath as described in this post on Onion-Skin Eggs. I found that with dyes like the Zinger tea and beets, the color was more concentrated with the refrigerator method. Of course, this method requires clearing out some space in the refrigerator.

This post was originally published April 2, 2010.

(Image credits: Sara Kate Gillingham)

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