From Beet Dye to Pysanky: Decorating Your Own Flock’s Eggs

Can You Dye Brown Eggs? Yes, and You Create Richer Colors.

From Beet Dye to Pysanky: Decorating Your Own Flock’s Eggs

By Janice Cole, Minnesota

Using vegetable colorants, like beet dye, is a natural way to decorate Easter eggs. Or, for more of a challenge, try pysanky or using colorful shells as part of a holiday recipe.

When I first started getting eggs from my own backyard chickens, I didn’t feel the need to decorate them come spring and Easter time. In fact, I was proud that I had my own different colored chicken eggs, the delicate blue, from Ameraucana chickens, or green and suntanned-brown eggs looked gorgeous simply placed in a bowl. But after several years of displaying eggs au naturel, I’m having fun exploring the possibilities of using natural colorants like beet dye. I am thrilled by the depth, colors, and designs I can get from dyeing and decorating my backyard flock’s colored eggs.

I’ve been decorating eggs ever since I could hold a pencil — it’s part of my heritage. Being part Ukrainian means that as soon as you’re able to sit at a table and draw a straight line you’re given an egg and a kistka, (a writing tool that holds melted beeswax) and taught to decorate eggs.

Ukrainian eggs, or pysanky, are works of art made by creating designs with wax while dyeing the eggs in a succession of deeper colors. The wax seals in the color in each layer resulting in intricately designed and brilliantly colored eggs when the wax is removed. Sealed with varnish, these raw eggs last for decades; we have pysanky that are over half a century old. The inside of the egg dries through the years until the yolk becomes a small hard ball that rattles when you gently move it. (Those who live in the South will find it sometimes necessary to work with blown eggshells because the summer heat may cause stored eggs to explode). Click Here for information about and supplies for making pysanky. While most pysanky have traditionally been made with white eggs, brown or colored egg pysanky can be very striking.

Pysanka is a Ukrainian Easter egg. The designs are not painted on, but are written with beeswax using a tool called a kistka.

Natural Egg Dyeing

If you’re interested in beginning with something less intricate than pysanky and, more importantly, something you can eat after they’re decorated, natural dyes are the way to go. I prefer using all natural dyes when decorating my homestead eggs, as the results are spectacular and occasionally unpredictable, making it lots of fun. Follow the chart to create your own dyes from common ingredients. White, brown or colored eggs can be dyed. White eggs produce the most intense colors while brown eggs produce a deeper and richly earthy version of each color. Light brown eggs will yield a stronger color than darker Marans chickens‘ eggs. I’ve found that holding brown eggs overnight in beet dye in the refrigerator produces a deep brilliant color.

For those of you who like the ease of using the little bottles of food coloring, you’ll be surprised at the vibrant color your brown eggs will produce. They color quickly in the commercial dyes and the results are unique.


These decorated Easter eggs were made using flowers and leaves. Janice simply painted a little egg white on the leaves and flower petals and gently pressed them to the eggshell. You can also lay a leaf on an egg, wrap it tightly with a part of an old nylon stocking to hold it in place and dip into dying material. Carefully remove the rubber band, nylon, and leaf. Allow the egg to dry completely before handling.I also like using natural herbs and plants to decorate my eggs. Just paint a little egg white on leaves and flowers using a tiny paintbrush and gently press them on the eggshell. Let them air dry and display, or dip the eggs in beet dye to produce a reverse stencil effect. Any assortment of plants will work although I’ve found soft leaves work the best. Also, don’t forget that empty eggshells, whether naturally colored or dyed, make delicate flower containers to use as individual bouquets at the table or on the windowsill.


Turmeric • 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
• 1-1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
• 3/4 cup boiling water
30 to 60 minutes;
Up to overnight for brown eggs
Sunshine Yellow to
Dusky Gold
Yellow Onion • 1 cup papery yellow onion skins, packed
• 1-1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
• 3/4 cup boiling water
30 to 60 minute;
Up to overnight for brown eggs
Peach to Pumpkin
Red Beet Dye • 1/4 cup shredded peeled beets, packed
• 1-1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
• 3/4 cup boiling water
30 to 60 minute;
Up to overnight for brown eggs
Pink to Magenta
Red Onion • 1 cup papery red onion skins, packed
• 1-1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
• 3/4 cup boiling water
60 minutes to 2 hours;
Up to overnight for brown eggs
Red Cabbage • 1/4 cup finely chopped red cabbage (avoid white ribs)
• 1-1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
• 3/4 cup boiling water
2 hours;
Up to overnight for brown eggs
Pale Blue
Red Cabbage
& Turmeric
• 1/4 cup finely chopped red cabbage
• 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
• 1-1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
• 3/4 cup boiling water
60 minutes to 2 hours;
Up to overnight for brown eggs
Lime Green to
Deep Green

Directions: Combine the recipe ingredients in a heatproof cup or bowl. Let stand at least one hour until room temperature; strain through a fine strainer reserving the liquid. Let eggs sit in dye until the desired color is obtained. Gently pat dry, do not rub hard; store dyed eggs in the refrigerator. If dyeing eggs overnight, make sure to store the eggs in dye in the refrigerator.

Tips for Dyeing:

• Make sure your hands are clean and grease-free.

• Wash eggs in vinegar water to remove any dirt or grease on eggshells.

• Once eggs are clean handle as little as possible. Use spoons to insert and remove eggs from the dye.

• Gently pat eggs almost dry using paper towels.

• Place on a drying rack if available (to make a drying rack place push pins in a sheet of Styrofoam or an egg carton)

• Let stand to air dry completely before storing.

These brown eggs were dyed using the following materials: Left to right — Red cabbage and turmeric, beet dye, red cabbage

Spinach and Herb Eggs on the Half Shell

Now that you’ve enjoyed your flock’s colored egg assortment, here’s a couple of great recipes that not only use your hens’ eggs but are served in gorgeous shells colored with beet dye.

Softly cooked eggs are mixed with fresh spinach and herbs, sautéed and served warm in their shells for a lovely lunch, an appetizer or as a dinner accompaniment. They are a nice alternative to deviled eggs.

4 large eggs
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh baby spinach
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Dash salt
Dash freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon butter

Place eggs in a small saucepan and barely cover with hot water. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and simmer 6 minutes; place in ice water until cool enough to handle.

Using a small sharp knife, carefully cut each egg through the shell lengthwise in half. Scoop out the yolks and most of the egg whites into a bowl, leaving the shells intact. Coarsely chop the eggs with a spoon and stir in the spinach, dill, chives, salt, and pepper. Carefully mound the mixture back into the eggshells.

Melt the butter in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Cook the eggs, shell-side up, 2 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Serve warm.

4 servings


Eggshells Stuffed with Raspberry Mousse

This soft and delicate mousse is made with raspberry curd and whipped cream and served in hollowed-out eggshells for a spectacular presentation. Each two-bite serving provides just a little taste. If you’d like more, double or triple the amount and serve it in small cups.

3/4 cup fresh raspberries, slightly crushed
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
6 eggshell halves (from 3 eggs)
6 fresh raspberries for garnish

Blend 3/4 cup raspberries in blender or food processor until smooth. Strain through a fine strainer to remove seeds; discard seeds. (There should be 6 tablespoons puree.)

Whisk 6 tablespoons raspberry puree, egg yolks and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a small saucepan until combined. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly and vigorously until mixture thickens and begins to boil around the edge. (Watch carefully so the mixture doesn’t overcook and curdle.) Remove from heat and pour into a small bowl; refrigerate 30 minutes or until chilled.

Meanwhile, if using raw eggshells, place eggshells in boiling water for 3 minutes to sterilize; cool. (If using shells from hard-cooked eggs, carefully remove any hard-cooked egg and egg membrane.)

Beat whipping cream and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar at high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently fold whipping cream into raspberry mixture. Spoon into eggshells or pipe using a pastry bag or plastic bag and star tip. (Dessert can be assembled up to 4 hours ahead; refrigerate.) Garnish with fresh raspberries. Serve in egg cups accompanied by cookies, if desired.

6 servings


Have you used turmeric or beet dye to color your backyard eggs? How did they turn out?

Janice Cole is the author of Chicken and Egg: A Memoir of Suburban Homesteading with 125 Recipes (Chronicle Books, 2011), available from the Backyard Poultry bookstore. She is a food editor and food writer. For recipes and more information about her birds visit her blog at

Originally published in Backyard Poultry April/May 2012 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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