Backroads: The Great Walnut Hair Dye Job

Black walnuts

Once I reached the age of fifty, I began noticing a few silver strands in my dark brown tresses. My daughter, who plucked the offending white hairs out when she saw them, announced one day that if she continued along this path, I would soon be bald. And my mother, when I’d stoop over to tie her shoelaces, would tap my head with her index finger and say, “Where’d all that gray hair come from?” Going to the hairdresser was just as bad. As soon as I sat down, they would start badgering me about coloring my hair. I noticed all the girls working in the salon had a different color hair each time I came in. In fact, I actually changed salons right after the girl who incessantly heckled me about coloring my hair dyed her own one too many times and it began to resemble dried up straw and broke off!

I am what you’d call a natural girl. I’ve never been into makeup, nails, or coloring my hair. But there was a time I decided to do something to stop those advancing wiry white hairs, naturally.

Each fall we had an accumulation of black walnuts that fell from our trees. I noticed that when we ran over them with the truck tires, a thick dark brown substance oozed out all over the driveway. Closer inspection revealed the goop didn’t have a bad odor and was the consistency of kindergarten paste. That night I told my daughter I was going to mix up a concoction of the brown goo, make a tea, and pour it over my head to dye my hair the same rich brown color. 

There was no manual for this project. No instructions. It was one of those, if you’ll excuse the pun, “hair-brained” ideas I’ve been known to come up with from time to time.

The next day I went out and gathered a goodly number of walnut hulls and began a cooking process, boiling the husks down into a thick sauce. When my daughter came home from school, I showed her my handiwork and told her to come in the bathroom and assist me in the dyeing process. She was curious and watched with interest as I bent my head over the tub and asked her to start pouring the walnut puree through my hair.

I worked it in really good with my hands, making sure each strand of hair was saturated. I hunkered over the tub a good ten or fifteen minutes, letting the thick brown tea steep into the roots.

For the first time, I was excited about hair color. I thought I might have invented a natural dye for all us brunettes without the high price and harsh chemicals of a boxed product. Dollar signs started flashing in my eyes. Purely by mistake and through experimentation I may have hit on something guaranteed to give Miss Clairol a run for her money.

When it came time to rinse, I put my entire head under the faucet until my hair ran clean. Then I wrapped it in a towel and stood up triumphantly, gloating at the luxurious brown tint of my hair. I turned to my daughter to get her reaction. For a moment she looked at me blankly. Then her facial expression told me something might be amiss. Walking to the mirror, I looked at myself and saw at once why daughter’s mouth was set in a silent “O.”

My reflection showed that my hair was beautiful; a rich shade of dark brown I couldn’t have been more pleased with. But that same shade was now on the back of my neck, on my forehead, and all over my hands and fingernails. I looked like I hadn’t taken a bath in ten years!

Try as I might, no amount of scrubbing would take the stain off. My natural permanent hair color was just that; permanent! Thank goodness it was late November and no one took much notice of me wearing a hat, scarf, and gloves outdoors although I’m sure they wondered why I didn’t take them off when I came inside. I did get some real nice compliments on my hair, however.

There you have Lynn’s homemade attempt at hair coloring. In all the years that followed, I never tried to dye my locks again, preferring to let nature take its course and just go gray… naturally.

For obvious reasons, there are no photos to accompany this article.


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