Natural Dyes using the Cactus

February 5, 2019

This blog title might be slightly misleading. The natural dyes I am referring to actually come from the insect that feeds off the cactus, not the cactus itself.

Nopales are a type of cactus, known as the prickly pear cactus, found natively in the southwestern portion of the US and in Mexico. Our artisan partner Rosa here on Lake Atitlan all the way in Guatemala began seeking out and harvesting this specific species to enhance her natural dye collections.

Natural dyes are something that date back generations in Rosa's family history, and she uses these botanical elements to create her handmade artisanal products. From a commercial standpoint, there became a lot of competition in her village, with the same colors and products being offered. As a result, Rosa decided to bring in nopales from neighboring Mexico to stay ahead of the competition and offer a color no one else had!

Rosa has a nursery full of cacti where she introduced the cochineal insect that lives off the nopal. Since they are a sap-sucking species, the females feed off the fruit of the cactus and lay their eggs. After their lifecycle, they fall from the cactus into a rack, where they dry before extracting the color. The female cochineal insects yield shades of red such as crimson and scarlet, perfect for naturally dying fibers!

By grinding up the insects, Rosa is able to harness a new color without using chemicals. See how gorgeous the tone is and more details in the photos below:


Interested in learning more about how insects become a natural dye? Book an ethical tour with us to visit Rosa's workshop and go through process from start to finish! 

For more info on all the ethical tours click here or email us directly at to plan your trip!


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