Leaf printing

August 04, 2002|by Dorry Baird Norris

Are your kids getting bored with all their summer free time? Get them into the garden.

At the Fairview Nature Fest, near Franklin, Tenn., Jean Buchanan of the Owl's Hill Nature Center for Environmental Studies produced elegant leaf print scarves. Using wax paper, a hammer and salt water she made accurate images of many of the leaves on the site. You can create lovely pictures of your herbs in this same way. You probably have all the materials on hand.

This is fun for both adults and kids to try while the garden is lush and green.

When I first tried it at home, I collected a leaf from each of the sages in the garden and printed them all on a single piece of old, white cotton sheeting. I found that the undersides of the leaves made the clearest impression. And darker leaves gave better results than the grayer ones.


Squishy leaves (like borage) were a disaster, creating splotches rather than clear outlines. Leaves that turn out well include sweet woodruff, sage, scented geraniums, fennel (this ends up looking a little like bamboo), lemon verbena, lemon balm, thyme and parsley. Rosemary also works as long as you pinch off every other "leaf" to make the design clearer. The only flowers that have printed with good color for me are the petals of bee balm and single petals of calendula. Dark pansies might work as well.

  • Materials

  • White, 100 percent cotton material, washed and ironed. You can use T-shirts (fun for kids), white cotton napkins or handkerchiefs, etc. Leaf-printed napkins made from unbleached muslin make grand Christmas gifts.

  • Leaves and flowers. Buchanan noted that young leaves and leaves collected after a rain give up the most color.

  • Large piece of stiff cardboard.

  • Hammer.

  • Plastic wrap.

  • Scotch tape.

  • 2 gallons of water at room temperature.

  • A 2 1/2 gallon container.

  • 1/2 cup salt.

Experiment on a piece of scrap material until you have achieved the effect you want before you start on your real material. You'll quickly discover which of your leaves works best.

If you plan to work on a flat piece of material, like a napkin, handkerchief or tablecloth, place the cardboard on a hard surface and cover with a piece of plastic wrap. If you're putting a design on a T-shirt put the plastic covered cardboard between the front and back of the shirt on top of a hard surface.

Lay out your leaves, with the underside facing the fabric, securing the leaf edges with the scotch tape. If you want to make a wreath, lay a small plate on the material and then position the herbs around the edges of the plate. Remove the plate and tape the leaves in place.

Starting at the center of each leaf pound carefully until you've extracted all the color from it. Then move on to the next leaf.

To set the natural leaf dye, dissolve salt in the room temperature water and soak the cloth in this mixture for 10 minutes.

Air dry out of the sunlight. Your nature cloth can now be washed and dried by machine.

If you want to try printing leaves with ink or paint check out "Nature Printing with Herbs, Fruits and Flowers" by Laura Donnelly Bethmann (Storey Press, 1996).

Herbarist, lecturer and Hagerstown resident Dorry Baird Norris is a member of the International Herb Association, a member-at-large of the Herb Society of America and author of "The Sage Cottage Herb Garden Cookbook." She welcomes questions about the non-medical use of herbs. E-mail her at or write in care of The Herald-Mail Co., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.

The Herald-Mail Articles