Lichen: Melanelia exasperata - Obsession nr. 2

I noticed that there was a lichen growing on one of the birch trees in my garden.  It wasn't pretty or anything, I actually thought it was slightly revolting.  But it was a lichen and there was plenty of it. And it was on my tree.  So I took some.  It had a green colour that was quite tempting.

I first boiled it in water to see what colour that gave to Icelandic wool.  It produced an off white colour.  Not the most exciting, but quite useful in many colour combinations.  I gave it to my daughter for a blanket that she is crocheting.

Next I put the Melanelia in Ammonia solution and I let it sit for a few weeks.  This is quite common to do with lichens because some of them will produce remarkable colours if they are steeped in this stinking solution for a few weeks.   And shaken every day.  In the olden days they used stale urine, most often from cows.  I have it on good authority from an Icelandic dyer that running after cows with a bucket to collect urine is a rather uncertain endeavour.  And as much as I love the methods of old, I decided to skip this one.  And peeing on it myself just seemed too self sufficient, somehow.

Anyway the ammonia solution is generally 1/3 ammonia, 2/3 water and it's better to have a good lid on this.  The smell is horrid.  I really knew that it wouldn't produce any exciting results because I have basically read which lichens are the primary dye lichens and Melanelia hasn't been mentioned.  But the thing is, there are a few thousand of these lichens and not all of them grow everywhere and maybe no one tried this with Melanelia.  So I had to try it for myself.

When it was apparent that nothing exciting (that means reds, pinks or purples in my mind) would come from the Melanelia I used it to dye a small skein of Alpaca wool.  The colour was slightly olive green.  Not as green as I expected because the water from it was a fairly distinct  green in a muddy brownish sort of way.  But I read somewhere that the colour of the dye water is not a good indication of the colour that a lichen produces.  These guys are just full of surprises.  But this is the greenest colour that I have had from lichen.

The Melanelia soap I did was exactly the same recipe as the other lichen soaps.  I only varied the water and the scent.  For this soap, which I hoped would be some sexy green colour I chose Ylang Ylang with the Vetiver.  I didn't get a sexy green, nor the rather muddy sort of greenish brown that I more realistically expected.  In fact the soap hardly took any colour at all.

I put some Birchbark with Melanelia on top to make it a bit more interesting, but maybe it's just a bit creapy.  But the scent is lovely, earthy and seductive.  I might use that again.

But the conclusion is that Melanelia exasperata (I'm pretty sure it is exasperata, but I willing to be corrected if a lichen expert should see this) is worthless as a colouring agent in soap.  It will produce an olive tint to wool in roughly equal quantity of lichen to wool.  The exhaust bath will be a light beige.  No reds or purples lurking in this lichen and it doesn't give much scent to the yarn, although the decoction smells nicely of lichen.  But it was a nice experiment and now I can leave it alone on my tree.


  1. Another interesting lichen experiment. The soap looks great even without stunning colour. To me this melanelia looks like black velvet ruffles.

  2. It's amazing to me how you use so many of nature's creations to dye wool or even use it in soap. Your knowledge bank is also very very rich I must add Ambra. :)

  3. Really, really interesting, I love your experiments with colour and natural materials. Keep them coming and thanks for sharing


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