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Make Every Easter Egg Green: Natural Egg-Dyeing Tips
The ways we celebrate Easter today combine many ancient traditions focusing on rebirth and renewal, both of which have been symbolized throughout the history of humankind through the humble egg. And dunking those eggs in a bath of dyes made of who-knows-what has become just another part of the ritual for most of us.
What's in the dyes that come in Easter egg–decorating kits, anyway? Mostly food coloring, which contains chemicals made from coal tar that can cause allergy symptoms or sensititivities for some people — and may include a suspected carcinogen. Commercial food coloring has also be linked to health conditions including depression, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder. In fact, some European countries have made the use of FD & C dyes illegal.
But how ELSE are you going to transform a couple dozen eggs from plain-Jane to festive and fabulous? Turns out, people have been coloring eggs without fizzing tablets for longer than Easter has been around. Yes, you can dye your eggs with food dyes you make yourself, from actual ... food. It's easier than it might sound. And it's not only a more eco-friendly option, but also an easy, educational family activity.
How to dye Easter eggs using natural, easy homemade food dyes
Using food to dye food is cool because you never know what you’re going to get! Experiment with more or fewer ingredients, more or less time in the pot, and with white, brown, and speckled eggs for a variety that is sure to win child, parent and Easter Bunny approval.
What you’ll need:
- Eggs, washed and dried
- Foods for dyeing (see list below)
- Cardboard egg crate, wire rack, or shoe box lid with silver dollar sized holes (for drying eggs)
- 4 cups of water
- 2 tbsp of white vinegar
- A few saucepots
- Strainer (for cold dyeing method)
- Beeswax crayons or rubber bands (see Egg Decorating Tips section below)
- Tongs or slotted spoon
How to make your own natural food dyes
Try the following natural dyes for a variety of tones. Canned and frozen fruits and veggies will work, but fresh foods seem to result in the darkest hues.
- Pink/red: Beets, cranberries/cranberry juice, pomegranate juice, red grape juice, red onion skins, rhubarb stalks (chopped), raspberries, some types of tea
- Orange: Yellow onion skins (from about 12 onions), paprika, chili powder
- Yellow: Lemon peels, orange peels, carrots (shredded), cumin (ground), turmeric (ground)
- Green: Spinach, some types of tea, golden delicious apple skins (may be a green/yellow)
- Blue: Blueberries/blueberry juice, purple grape juice, red cabbage, blackberries
- Purple: Violet blossoms + 2 tsp lemon juice, hibiscus tea
- Brown: Strong black coffee, tea, dill seeds, black walnut shells
Begin by using approximately four cups of fruits and veggies, two tablespoons of white vinegar, and one tablespoon of spice for every four cups of water. Adding more of the natural dye ingredient (in addition to a proportionately higher amount of vinegar) or soaking for longer (try overnight!) will create darker colors.
Note that chemicals (such as chlorine) and minerals in your water may affect the dye’s intensity.
Natural egg dyeing methods
You can create a variety of colors with a few ingredients by dyeing some eggs with the hot method, some with the cold, and varying the amount of time eggs are exposed to the dye.
Hot method: Combine uncooked eggs and ingredients for a single color in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for at least ½ hour (for deeper colors, simmer longer). Remove with tongs, pat dry, and place in a crate or on a rack or box lid. Once dry, rub with vegetable oil for a shine or leave with a matte finish.
Cold method (safer for younger children): Boil eggs. Avoid overcooking so shells remain intact. Next, mix dye ingredients, boil, and simmer as above. Remove dye from heat, cool and strain, reserving dye in bowl. Carefully place hard-boiled eggs in dye and leave in for at least ½ hour (or longer for deeper color). Remove with tongs, pat dry, and place in a crate or on a rack or box lid. Once dry, rub with vegetable oil for a shine or leave with a matte finish.
Eco-friendly egg decorating tips
If you’d like your eggs to sport patterns, shapes, or words, use a beeswax crayon to draw the design before the egg is dyed. Older kids can paint on melted beeswax with a thin brush. Beeswax crayons are available through many online kids stores like novanatural.com, which also carries natural egg dyes.
Want stripes? Wrap the egg with rubber bands.
For a tie-dye look, rub shells with vinegar and enfold in onion skins, secured with kitchen twine or rubber bands. Then hard-boil without dye (or do the same with an already hardboiled egg and just leave onion skin on overnight). Adding a tablespoon of oil to the dye will create a marbled effect. Create another look by holding a small leaf or blade of grass against the egg with a piece of pantyhose tied tightly around it. Then dye. When the dye is set and the hose removed, an imprint of the object should appear.
Put colored eggs back in the fridge after coloring. Do not leave them out for more than 2 hours before eating. They can be stored for up to a week in the fridge. Don't hide real eggs for an egg hunt, as they can be inadvertently exposed to bacteria.
Egg-stra credit: More ways to green your Easter eggs!
Opt for fresh-laid eggs from happy chickens. Look for a nearby farmer with free-range chickens who sells eggs via delivery, farmers’ market, co-op, or pick-up. Check out LocalHarvest.org to find local eggs.
Choose eggs sold in earth-friendly compostable or recycled/recyclable cardboard packaging over plastic or Styrofoam. Or bring your own basket or container to your local farm or farmers’ market.
Go for 'green' grass in Easter baskets. Alternatives to petroleum-based plastic Easter grass include raffia, strips of organic nori (shimmery green seaweed available in paper-like sheets), shredded recycled paper, or strips of green (or multi-colored) fabric. You also can use a grass-colored silk scarf or cotton play cloths, available online.
Look for eggs labeled certified organic, certified humane, vegetarian-fed, and cage-free.
Adapted from Celebrate Green! by Corey Colwell-Lipson and Lynn Colwell. Copyright © 2008 by The Green Year, LLC, Renton, WA. Excerpt printed with permission from the authors.