Red, Orange, Yellow


A new red from the new world once took Europe by storm, as countries vied to find the secret to this mysetrious dye from the Spanish colonies. They did not guess for a long time that it came from cochineals, little white bugs on pirckly pear cacti. These charming little bugs still color nearly everything consumable and red: lipstick, Cherry Coke, etc. Yum.


Orange madder are long roots that burrow deep in the ground, so much so that in Holland there were laws forcing farms to pull up their madder every few years lest it burrow into the dyke. The mysterious ingredient that created the beautfiul orange varnish of Stradavarious violins has long excited speculation.

Not purple, but YELLOW

Fields of purple crocuses create saffron, an expensive golden yellow, first produced by drying the crimson red stamen of the perennial autumn crocus flower. Now most saffron grows in Iran, but once a small, punny town in England grew saffron in the Middle Ages: Saffron Walden. Their coat-of-arms features a crocus… walled in.

All these fun facts come from Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay. One more fun fact: Minium, which was the name for white lead heated turns until it turned “minium” red, was a popular color with Persian, Ottoman, and Indian artists in Medieval times. Their work then became known as “miniatures,” which only more recently referenced size.

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