This past weekend I tried my hand at making pokeberry ink. This is made from the ripe berries of the pokeweed plant.
I first heard of pokeweed ink when I was researching walnut ink, which Iíve also made. I didnít know what pokeweed was, however. After a little more research, I realized that pokeweed was something Iíd been seeing all my life in every patch of weeds Iíve ever looked at, but I just didnít know what it was called. Itís very common, at least around here, and very easy to spot; it can be quite tall, with large leaves, distinctive magenta stems, and lots and lots of berries.
Anyway, I had one growing in my backyard, so I let it mature, and on Saturday I made some ink. My daughters were enthusiastic helpers.
After making sure they understood that the berries were toxic and would make them very, very sick if they at them, and after making sure they had on play clothes (my wife later garbed them in trash bags with holes for the arms and head cut out), we got to work.
First, we put all the berries in a large bowl.
Hands were stained by the berries, and berries that fell into the grass stained our feet.
Then we squished and strained them through a wide-hole colander. The color on my hands, in the full sunlight, was dazzling. After that, I poured it through a sieve into jars.
After that, I used a dip-pen and a brush to do some messing around.
On the plus side, this ink is really, really easy to make. One large plant gave me two jelly jars full of ink; the color is a vivid magenta; and it flows off the pen wonderfully!
One the minus side, the color is said to turn to brownóI donít know how long it will take, but probably not too long. Even worse, itís not lightfast; even the brown will fade, I think, so youíd need to keep it under UV glass or out of the light.
According to legend, the Declaration of Independence was signed with this ink (which I suppose could be a reason why itís faded to illegibility and kept in a dark room under thick glass). It was also commonly used by soldiers during the American Civil War to write letters home, and American Indians painted their horses with the dye.