Wolf Lichen

Last year while hiking the Sierras I came upon this chartreuse lichen that fell off the incense cedars. I had read about this lichen before. Since I wasn’t expecting to find some, I got very excited  when I stumbled into it and started collecting some from the fallen branches. Wolf Lichen (Letharia Vulpina) was used before by the natives for dyeing and by the Achomawi for making poisoned arrowheads. The name must come from the fact that this lichen is poisonous due to the vulpinic acid and has been used in the past for poisoning wolves and foxes. The plant has been used also to make a tea to stop bleeding, and for treating bruises, sores and such.

So I gathered about a pound of this conspicuous plant, and some was used to cover the head of my hiking partner who looked like the Woodland Fairy of the Sierras.

I didn’t want to use it until I had the right wool for it and the right project for the wool.  I got some Falkland that I spun into a thick and thin  yarn and I thought that it was a good time to use the lichen.

I did some search online and I wasn’t able to find any recipe that could help me to prepare the dye bath. I asked some questions on Ravelry and with help here and there I decided to give it a try. The first thing I did was to soak the lichen for about a week. The next step was to simmer it for about and hour. Meanwhile I pre-mordant the yarn with Alum. The lichen can also be used without the mordant. After simmering the lichen, I strained it to get rid of bark and debris that could cling onto my yarn and put it back onto my dyepot with the yarn in it.

I let it simmer for about an hour and turned off the flame. I let the yarn sit and cool off overnight in the dye pot and voila! These are the results after drying the yarn.

I used the bath a second time with some yarn spun with Icelancic wool that I got from Extreme Spinning on Etsy.  I got a more subtle buttery yellow that I like very much.

I didn’t try a third time, but it was obvious that I wasn’t going to get any more color after the second bath. Next time I get a hold of some more wolf lichen, I will try to use it without the mordant and maybe add some ammonia to it to see if there is any color variation.

You May Be Deceived If You Trust Too Much, But You Will Live In Torment If You Don’t Trust Enough.

~Frank Crane

4 thoughts on “Wolf Lichen

  1. I have used letharia vulpina in dyeing a few times, with rather brighter results than you show here, but I found a lot of it so I probably used a higher concentration. The first time I crunched and chopped it as best as I could and simmered it without a mordant in a pot with a white wool sock for an hour or so. I got a brilliant yellow, only slightly greenish sock. Later, when I was brewing some orchil, I filled a small jar with letharia and ammonia solution and let it stew for a month or so. The resultant liquid ended up dark yellowish brown, darker than when I boiled it, and it seemed a bit purplish during the second week, but the wool I dyed was it was nearly the same yellow as I got from just boiling, maybe a little less green and a little less intense. Next I’ll try soaking it for a long time in just water and simmering, like you did, to see if my results are more like yours or more like my first attempt.


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