Sappan wood – brasilwood from India – some history, background, and recipes

Sappan wood (Ceasalpinia sappan) has become my favourite source of red color for now. Native to Asia, it is the “older” cousin of what is now known as Brazil wood. When the Portuguese invaded what is now Brazil in 1500, the redwood trees they saw growing there reminded them of Sappan wood, which they already knew, called it pau-brasil and used for dyeing along with the rest of the Europe. Because of extensive use for dye and for violin bows, or perhaps the opposite, because the dye business was not economically profitable after the invention of the chemical dyes, or maybe due to both these reasons, the Brazil wood (Ceasalpinia echinata, Paubrasilia echinata) is almost extinct now, Wikipedia says that the trade of Brazilwood is likely to be banned in the immediate future. So now we are back to the good old Sappan wood, which is still available and abundant in India and China. It is used medicinally in both Ayurveda (where it’s called Pathimukham) and in Traditional Chinese medicine (where it’s called Su Mu). Continue reading

Cabbage with different mordants

Tried the cabbage recipe again, wanted to see what different mordants would do. Shredded a full purple cabbage and boiled for about 20 min in 2l of water. I think it could take more cooking, there was still color left in the cabbage. Drained the liquid, divided into 4 jars, to try iron, vinegar, alum and baking soda. Final result:

Here are the eggs after about an hour in the dyes:These are iron, vinegar and alum. Soda didn’t really work much at all, so it’s not in this picture. Then I added alum into both vinegar and soda jars, to see whether that would improve how the color took. Left the one in just alum and vinegar+alum for another hour to achieve one more shade, left the rest for the night. Here is before taking the wax off, iron, vinegar, alum, soda (that one didn’t change at all after adding alum, and did not give a darker shade overnight, vinegar improved with alum, but the dye didn’t adhere so well to the egg):

So, I recommend alum. Vinegar and soda didn’t work very well for me, however, I used tap water, and it’s full of chlorine here, which might affect the dyes, can’t really be called a pure experiment. Use demineralized or distilled water if you want to make your experiment really “scientific”, and let me know how it goes.

The iron was OK, gave a decent gray after an hour and almost black after a night, but I wouldn’t use cabbage for that, unless you don’t have other options and don’t mind the cabbage smell.

Sappan wood, alum vs. iron mordant

For those of you who are wondering, what different mordants can do to the dye, here is sappan wood with alum (red) and the other half of the same dye with iron mordant (purple-grey-black).

Besides changing the colour (or tone) itself, in some cases mordants used of fabric also improve, sometimes dramatically, light- and wash-fastness of the dye. I don’t know what will happen with eggs, I guess, the time will tell.

Here’s the iron mordant I got and used:

Technically speaking, you could just use the edible grade iron sulphate supplement from a drug store, it’s the same formula most of the time.

Another proof that not all that works for fabrics works for eggs also: the iron added to coreopsis dye did nothing, in fact, it just killed the dye, even though iron seems to work well with coreopsis for both plant and animal based fibres.

Logwood dye finally tamed?

I love these kinds of patterns from the North-East of Ukrainian ethnic territories, this area is now in Russia, and this is where one of my great-grandfathers was killed during World War II. These are so earthy and so sky-ey at the same time. I sometimes think, if birds were to make pysanky (the decorated eggs), this of what they would look like. Maybe it’s the abundance of pine-branch motif, that look so much like feathers. They also remind me the patters of native Americans.

The dyes: yellow is probably buckthorn (though maybe still weld? When you make and throw out 3 yellow dyes in 10 days, things become a bit confusing). The red is sappan wood. Then things became somewhat complicated. I was going for dark brown and put it into walnut, but it actually managed to eat out the darker red and gave me quite light brick-brown.

I didn’t mind the color, but for this egg preferred it to be traditional rather than experimental, so the egg waited for about a week till I made logwood. This time, as also previously, logwood on other eggs was coming off with wax, so I made an experiment. After logwood was dark enough, I let the egg dry, and next day put it back into sappan wood hoping the the coat of another dye will keep the logwood from pealing off (that seemed to have worked OK with the dark purple egg in the previous post). Voila! Seems to have worked just fine. Now let’s hope the logwood dye doesn’t spoil before I want to use it again – I have to make new yellow, and possibly also new red, and I used up all of the logwood extract I had left from my first purchase of natural dyes few years ago.

Here’s another take, where you can see the side-band also.

Logwood dye (extract)

Logwood is and old dye (apparently it’s been used for dyeing since 16th century). It is supposed to give a range of colors from blue and purple to black. I got sort of dark brown with the addition of alum and chalk.


I found the dye to be not particularly eager, maybe it doesn’t like eggs so much. It also comes off easily when the wax is being taken off with candle. That, however, I have noticed with a number of natural dyes, that you have to be much more careful and gentle when taking off the wax, than with chemical dyes. So I often add much more wax before taking it off to seal the whole surface of the egg. Another thing I noticed is that the natural dyes seem to burn much easier than the chemical ones, that is, also when the wax is taken off with the candle.

UPD: To help set the logwood dye in other eggs, I have over-dyed them with another dye (in that case red sappan wood). While the egg remained almost black, the powdery surface of logwood was nicely sealed, and the issue of the dye coming off with wax has been resolved.

To see other eggs dyed with logwood, use logwood tag.