Mignonette flowers are not especially attractive but are extremely fragrant. Grown for the sweet ambrosial scent of its flowers which are used in flower arrangements and potpourri, the volatile oil is used in perfumery.
Reseda is a genus of fragrant herbaceous plants native to southwest Asia and the Mediterranean region, from the Canary Islands and Iberia east to northwest India. It reached the western world in the mid 1700's and quickly became a Victorian favourite and was commonly grown for its fragrance in pots and in window-boxes to scent the city air of early London. In cottage gardens it was planted near outhouses and along pathways leading the way to the front of the home.
This Mediterranean herb is the oldest yellow dye plant in the world. Weld alongside Madder, Woad and Chamomile produce the very best natural dyes for temperate areas. The famous medieval colours, Saxon green and Lincoln green, were produced by over-dying weld yellow with woad blue. Lincoln green was the colour of the clothing of Robin Hood's men.
The flowers are produced in a slender spike; each flower is 4 to 6mm diameter. It is in flower from June to August and the seeds ripen from August to September. The fruit is a small dry capsule containing several seeds. They are excellent plants for attracting wildlife; the flowers are pollinated by bees, butterflies and other insects.
If you are searching for an old world plant to add to your cottage garden, this may just be the one. Reseda is a fascinating plant with a long recorded history. The heavenly scent is like sweet honey sent from the gods and will draw visitors to the garden in search of its source.
Sowing: Sow in late winter/late spring or late summer/autumn.
In the wild, the seed naturally germinate in the autumn; an autumn sowing usually succeeds in areas where winter temperatures do not fall below about -10°C. (50°F)
Reseda prefers moist, rich soil that leans toward the alkaline end of the scale and a sunny to dappled shade area of the garden. It prefers some shade in areas where summers are long and hot.
In colder areas, either start the seed indoors about six to eight weeks before the last frost or sow the seed directly where it will be grown in early spring to late summer. Surface sow the seeds and do not cover as they need light to germinate. Germination 7 to 14 days at room temperature. Thin them out as young seedlings.
They can be planted in pots but they dislike root disturbance, they can be transplanted but care must be taken not to break the tap root.
Reseda likes regular watering and will not do well under drought conditions. Fertilize well and often for best blooms with the most ambrosia like scent in the garden.
It produces attractive rosettes of slightly crinkled long and slender leaves the first season and long bloom spikes the second. If allowed to flower and set seed, it will produce volunteer plants in the spring. These can be weeded out where ever they are unwelcome and dried for use as dye later.
The plant is harvested as the last flowers fade. Much of the dye is found in the seed. Exercise caution and wear gloves when handling the plant and harvesting as the plant may irritate skin in some people. Seeds can be collected from the small capsules found on plant after bloom period. Allow pod to dry on plant and store as you would any other flower or herb seed.
Weld flowers attract bees and butterflies. Animals - cattle, goats, sheep, and donkeys like to eat the leaves.
Pliny described a plant widely grown for its aphrodisiac scent which was also used in treating bruises -
for this reason he gave it the latin name reseda, meaning a healer or restorer. (The Latin translation is 'gives comfort')
Luteola means 'yellowish' and refers to the colour of the dye it produced. The word derives from a source of yellow dye called lutum.
There are many common names, including: wold, dyer's rocket, dyer's weed, dyer's broom, bastard rocket, sweet reseda, pastel sauvage, yellow weed, wild mignonette and dyer's mignonette.
It was used medicinally as a sedative and a treatment for bruises in Roman times. In Britain it was used, rarely, as a poultice on wounds and bites of snakes or stings of insects but was recommended against the plague, which suggests it was probably a last resort type herb. Oil is obtained from the seed and used in lighting.
An excellent ink can be made by macerating weld in alcohol; this makes a yellow ink good for drawing. Along with other natural dyes like indigo, cochineal, and madder, weld was turned into a "lake" (by precipitating it onto an opaque substance, like chalk) and used in painting and in medieval manuscript illumination as a substitute for the poisonous orpiment and to signify gold.
The painter Vermeer is said to have glazed weld over an indigo blue to produce the once brilliant, but age darkened, greens of Girl with a Pearl Earring (ca. 1666).
In his 1876 book, The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom, Charles Darwin recorded his findings from using Reseda, along with many other plants, in his experiments which proved self-fertilised plants produce inferior seedlings.
This Mediterranean herb is the oldest yellow dye plant in the world. The yellow dye was obtained by the first millennium BC, perhaps earlier than either woad or madder. It is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as ‘rikhpah’ and still grows in Israel. The Romans dyed the robes of the Vestal Virgins and wedding clothing with this herb. It was a favoured dye in Persia in the Dark Ages and widely use in Europe in the Middle Ages. It grew wild in southern England but farther north might well have been found in cottage gardens growing against south-facing walls. It was grown in North American colonial gardens. Weld dyed the clothes of the common people in Great Britain but the silks of wealthy Vikings was imported.
Weld is a more concentrated yellow dye than most dye flowers. Dyes from natural vegetable, animal and mineral sources were once the only choices for pigment. Until 1828, if it did not come from nature, it did not exist in the dyer’s palate. Many were superseded by tropical dye plants after the European invasion of the New World and with the advent of coal-tar derived dyes and later chemically synthesized pigments, natural sources of dye gradually fell into disuse. Commercial use of this dye came to an end at the beginning of the twentieth century, when cheaper synthetic yellow dyes came into use.
Some natural sources for dye produce truly exquisite shades and cost far less than purchased chemical dyes. It is very easy to grow several of the very best and most famous dye plants in your herb garden. Some are so attractive that you will want them for their flowers alone. If you are interested in reproducing these colours today, it is very easy to do.
Dyeing with Weld.
Dyer’s mignonette or weld produces an outstanding primary yellow on all protein fibres and cotton. This yellow is clear and intense, the yellow that all other yellows are judged against. The substance responsible for producing this colour is luteolin and is present in all the green parts of the plant. Compared to other plant sources for yellow available to the home dyer, weld is very concentrated.
Often used alongside Madder, Woad and Chamomile, together with Weld, they are the very best natural dyes for temperate areas. Madder makes shades of red, Weld and Chamomile yields a bright yellow, and Woad gives blues. Combined with woad, weld makes green (usually the woad is done first); this is called Lincoln Green. It is also the basis of Saxon green, which is weld over Saxon blue (a light blue created by indigo dye treated with sulphuric acid [oil of vitriol]). They are all quite colourfast and produce excellent quality dyes that are used amongst artists etc who prefer to work with natural dyes.
With an alum mordant, weld makes the best yellow on wool and silk, with copper it makes greenish yellow, with iron it makes olive. Remember to be very careful when using any mordant other than alum, especially chromium dioxide (chrome), as they are all toxic to some degree. Alum is very safe and will not harm you or your fibres.
Weld can be used fresh or dried with equal success. If you are only dying a small quantity of fibre, simply pick a few leaves from each plant, the same way you would harvest leaf lettuce. Six to seven first-year rosettes or two second-year blooming plants will dye a pound of wool and can be used fresh or dried. Use dried leaves equal to ½ the weight of fabric as a measurement. Crumble and soak in warm water for six hours before using.
Chop the plant material and simmer, for one hour to extract the pigment. Don't boil, or it will turn brown. Keep stirring, because this dye tends to sink to the bottom of the pot.
Strain out the leaves and add your mordant and a small quantity of chalk or washing soda to the dye bath to make the dye bath alkaline. Then add the wet fibre or yarn. Simmer the fibre for an hour, stirring frequently. Luteolin is one of the few plant pigments that will settle out of solution so it is important to stir often.
The genus Reseda
There are somewhere in the region of 50 to 70 species of Reseda, including:
Reseda alba - White Mignonette
Reseda complicata Glaucous Mignonette
Reseda lutea - Wild Mignonette
Reseda luteola – Weld. European Mignonette
Reseda odorata - Common Mignonette
Reseda phyteuma - Corn Mignonette
Reseda scoparia - Canaries Mignonette
- Additional Information
Packet Size 1 gram Average Seed Count 4,500 seeds Family Resedaceae Genus Reseda Species luteola Synonym Reseda ramosissima, Reseda reyeri, Reseda gracilis, Reseda truncate Common Name Mignonette, Sweet Reseda, Dyers Rocket Other Common Names European, Wild or Yellow Mignonette, Dyer's broom, Bastard rocket,
Pastel Sauvage and Dyer's mignonette
Other Language Names IR - Buí beag / Buí mór Hardiness Hardy Biennial Flowers Bright yellow. Natural Flower Time June to August Fruit The fruit is a small dry capsule containing several seeds. Foliage Basel rosette 20-30cm (8-12in) tall Height Flower height: 90-135cm (36 to 55in) Spread 30cm (12in) Position Full sun preferred Soil Prefers free-draining but will grow in any soil Time to Sow Late winter/late spring or late summer/autumn. Germination 7 to 14 days at room temperature.