Trend guru Li Edelkoort's horticultural magazine Bloom recently looked at color from nature as a source of inspiration. Color from flowers and plants was also part of her trend presentation for Summer 2012 called Earth Matters. If you're not quite ready to fling yourself into growing a dye garden filled with woad, indigo and madder and do it yourself dyeing there's a small area of natural coloring that might be a closer reach - coloring your food with plant material.
There's the easy ones like turmeric and the not so well known ones like Perilla which the Japanese use to color vinegar and there's the blue pea flower pictured above that is used locally here to make a sweet glutinous rice cake an unusual food color - blue. There's also drinks, my recent discoveries include Roselle and another local recipe made from stewed sugar cane and the leaves of Rhoeo Discolor that turns out a pale purple. Beet juice, chive vinegar, spinach pastas, anything with berries- there's quite a few recipes to try.
Apart from turmeric and saffron which colors up strong, most natural plant dyes tend to impart a softer shade - materials are more likely to be tinged, imbued, tinted, or stained with color. See how the brilliant pea flower just lends the rice about half its vibrancy. And therein lies the rise of popularity of synthetic dyes which have the capability to create vivid, brilliant, saturated hues cheaply and with much less effort. But they aren't so cheap in the big picture when we see the toxic and carciogenic effects of these chemical processes exert their toll on the people who work in these industries.
If we are to move in the direction of non toxic natural plant color dyes then what we must begin to do is adjust our color tastes. Li Edelkoort is encouraging creatives, designers and product developers to re discover the tinctorial arts of plant coloring and use their skills to seduce consumers into more subtle vegetal shades.
Try some food coloring experiments this summer when the garden provides material and opportunity to create mindfulness of how color really works, naturally. Colors as we see them in the garden are not something we can easily re create without the use of harmful chemical agents. Capturing nature, might be harming it. Colors safe enough to eat is a related concept with the prevalence of it in everyday food and drinks - its principal target and victim being children. Can we rearrange our heads to make responsible consumption, delicious? We really should.