Alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria) is a plant of the Borage family and is also known as Batschia Canescens and Dyer’s Bugloss. It is a flowering plant and produces blue flowers. However, it is the roots that contains Alkannin, the dye we are interested in. The red coloring extracted from the roots have been in use since ancient times as a colorant for food, wines, tinctures, varnishes etc.
Alkannin can be extracted into alcohol or oil, as it is not soluble in water. When steeped in oil for about 4-6 weeks, Alkanet root releases a deep crimson color.
In natural dye baths, use Alkanet at 75%-100% to dry weight of fiber. Colors achieved on natural fibers are lavender, purple and grey. To get best results, apply moderate heat to the dye bath, keeping it below 60°C / 140°F.
In soap making, colors achieved are lavender, purple, grey, depending on the pH of the soap mixture. For best results, substitute part of the oil in your soap recipe with Alkanet oil extract.
Alkanet oil extract can also be used as a wood stain to impart deep red hues similar to rosewoods.
Alkanet extract is also used as a food colorant, especially in fiery colored Indian curries. However, it is advisable not to use store bought Alkanet directly in your foods, unless it is labelled as approved by food safety regulators.