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Pokeberry Ink


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#1 fiberdrunk

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Posted 17 July 2012 - 23:38

The pokeberries have begun to ripen here in the South, so it's ink-making time! I'm experimenting with a new recipe this year, based on Pharmacist's recommendation to add alum and gum Arabic, to help preserve the color (the last two years, I used a pioneer recipe that had vinegar and salt in it and that ink began to brown in the bottle within a month. That recipe is posted below, too, for comparison.)


Pokeberry Ink Recipe 2012

2/3 cup ripe pokeberries (which yields about ½ cup or 118 ml juice)
1/8 teaspoon alum
3.5 grams gum Arabic
1/8 cup (30 ml) 100-proof vodka (= approximately 10% alcohol concentration)
3-4 whole cloves

1. Crush berries through a non-metal fine mesh strainer, using a pestle. Collect the juice, including the foam, in a non-reactive bowl, preferably glass (the foam will go down overnight.) Discard the seeds.

2. Add the alum and stir well. Add the gum Arabic and stir well. The gum Arabic will take a while to dissolve, even overnight. Add the vodka. Stir well and allow to sit overnight.

3. Stir well again, then make a writing sample with a glass pen to check the flow of the ink. I found I needed to strain the ink through cloth one more time. Add the whole cloves. Note: the alum and gum Arabic can make the writing line look a tad grainy. Add a little distilled water if necessary (one drop at a time) until the ink flows well with a dip pen. This recipe yields approximately ½ cup (118 ml) of pokeberry ink.

Sample written on Sugarmade paper (bamboo/sugarcane fiber) with various pens (a bit on the dull side):

Posted Image

Writing sample on Strathmore 100% cotton paper (with much more vibrant results):

Posted Image

This is the old vinegar/salt recipe, found in a pioneer cookbook:

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This is what pokeberries look like (Phytolacca americana):

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The berries now removed from the stem:
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Crushing the berries:

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Observations:
I had to tweak the ink to get a decent flow. It seems once you add gum Arabic, alcohol and maybe even the alum, you begin a dance of effecting ink flow. The vinegar/salt recipe required no tweaking. It always flowed well. The vinegar recipe might be a tad more vibrant than the alum/gum Arabic one, but this may be the result of adding alcohol, which may have diluted the color a little. It'll be worth it if the color can be preserved for a longer period of time.

I was able to get this new recipe to work in a Parker Vector (though don't rush out to try it... I'm waiting to see if it'll eat the pen or not. I tried the vinegar recipe in a Platinum Marker last year, and by the third day it had eaten the plastic ink feed on the pen and gushed out-- you can find info about that in this thread.) I don't think this new recipe is as acidic as the vinegar recipe, however, so I have good hopes this will work. Try at your own risk! With either recipe, the most vibrant results are always obtained with a glass or metal dip pen, however.

The longer this ink dries on the paper, the more water resistance it has. I doubt this ink is lightfast because the vinegar recipe was not (that one faded dramatically within only one day in the sun and disappeared completely within three days). But I'll test it and then post my findings later. The vinegar recipe also showed dramatic fading on pages stored in the dark within a year, too. So enjoy this ink in the short-term!

Here's an older thread about fermenting pokeberry ink. I found the fermented version to be an even more unstable ink, though. But for the ink makers on the forum, you might want to read through all the threads for more information and options.

Edited by fiberdrunk, 18 July 2012 - 00:13.

Find my homemade ink recipes on my Flickr page here.

"I don't wait for inspiration; inspiration waits for me." --Akiane Kramarik

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#2 escribo

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 00:37

That's very cool! I like your back-to-basics attitude.

I don't know if we have those around here, but they look kinda familiar. Something that might grow along creeks.

What we do have, though, are wild persimmons -- Texas persimmons. They taste great when ripe but you don't want to eat them -- they are brown brown brown! Dark, teeth-staining brown.
Hmmm :hmm1:

Edited by escribo, 18 July 2012 - 00:38.

I may not have been much help, but I DID bump your thread up to the top.


#3 fiberdrunk

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 05:11

Thanks!

Here are more photos of the pokeweed. It's a rather tall plant (taller than me). It dies back with the cold in the fall/winter, but comes back in the spring, getting bigger with each new season. It forms a large taproot, so if you cut the plant down without digging out the root, it will continue to grow back. It's common all over the southeast. Maybe the northeast, too. The berries ripen from July to September or so in North Carolina.

In flower:
Posted Image

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Unripe berries and leaves:

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Baby pokeweed coming up in the spring:
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Edited by fiberdrunk, 18 July 2012 - 05:13.

Find my homemade ink recipes on my Flickr page here.

"I don't wait for inspiration; inspiration waits for me." --Akiane Kramarik

#4 NeelsK

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 05:29

NICE!!! :notworthy1:

Does the ink itself change color over time as it ages in the bottle?

#5 fiberdrunk

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 14:35

NICE!!! :notworthy1:

Does the ink itself change color over time as it ages in the bottle?


Yes, it turns brown both in the bottle and on the page, too. At least the pioneer recipe did (I could see it begin to change within a month). I'm hoping this recipe with the alum delays that change. Will post an update over time about it.

Edited by fiberdrunk, 18 July 2012 - 14:36.

Find my homemade ink recipes on my Flickr page here.

"I don't wait for inspiration; inspiration waits for me." --Akiane Kramarik

#6 fiberdrunk

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 20:25

What we do have, though, are wild persimmons -- Texas persimmons. They taste great when ripe but you don't want to eat them -- they are brown brown brown! Dark, teeth-staining brown.
Hmmm :hmm1:


It could be fun to experiment! Brown inks are fun, too.
Find my homemade ink recipes on my Flickr page here.

"I don't wait for inspiration; inspiration waits for me." --Akiane Kramarik

#7 Kakaze

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 20:55

The first thing I thought when I saw the topic was Pokémon. They have pokéberries in the games/show.

For some people I guess ink is kinda like Pokémon...gotta catch'em all.

#8 fiberdrunk

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 21:54

The first thing I thought when I saw the topic was Pokémon. They have pokéberries in the games/show.

For some people I guess ink is kinda like Pokémon...gotta catch'em all.



:roflmho:

You're right about that! All this afternoon, I've been making black walnut ink, too. Gotta catch 'em all.
Find my homemade ink recipes on my Flickr page here.

"I don't wait for inspiration; inspiration waits for me." --Akiane Kramarik

#9 fiberdrunk

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Posted 28 July 2012 - 20:14

Just a quick short-term update. I did a sunshine test on this new ink recipe. It still faded dramatically (though not completely) within about 5 days. By comparison, the vinegar recipe faded completely within 3 days. So it looks like the alum extended it, but only by a couple days. I'll post again in several months to see how samples hold up in the dark.

Edited by fiberdrunk, 28 July 2012 - 20:15.

Find my homemade ink recipes on my Flickr page here.

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#10 pen2paper

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Posted 28 July 2012 - 20:55

Great thread and Photo's!
Like the shading on the Strathmore.
Question:Is this the poke weed that was eaten as a salad during the "Great Depression"? My mother recalled picking "poke salad" with her great grandmother in TN. If so, would the picking have been the green shoots in the spring? Thanks.

emoticon-animal-007.gif~Hi! fountain pen enthusiast here~


#11 fiberdrunk

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Posted 28 July 2012 - 21:39

Great thread and Photo's!
Like the shading on the Strathmore.
Question:Is this the poke weed that was eaten as a salad during the "Great Depression"? My mother recalled picking "poke salad" with her great grandmother in TN. If so, would the picking have been the green shoots in the spring? Thanks.


Yes, it's the same plant; and yes, you can only eat the spring shoots before they get more than 6 inches or so and/or turn red/purple (and those have to be boiled twice, changing the cooking water each time, to make them safe to eat). It's a potentially toxic plant, so research all you can before consuming it in any way. I make a medicinal tincture from the roots (dosage is tiny). You used to be able to find the greens in the grocery store.

The Wild Pantry blog shows pictures of canned poke salat, which apparently you can't get anymore.

Edited by fiberdrunk, 28 July 2012 - 21:40.

Find my homemade ink recipes on my Flickr page here.

"I don't wait for inspiration; inspiration waits for me." --Akiane Kramarik

#12 N2theBreach

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Posted 29 July 2012 - 00:25

Did the recipe say anything about it turning brown? Do you know anything more about how they used it?

Since it changed rather quickly, I'm wondering if they didn't still use it after it "browned up" since they went to all that work to make it? This is a long shot, but I can almost imagine Granny telling the grandkids that they would have to wait a week before they could use the new pokeberry ink. By then it would be a nice brown. Of course, it sounds like it would turn brown whether it was in the bottle, or on the paper.

Thanks for posting! I'm interested in how people did things when they didn't have access to mass production.

#13 fiberdrunk

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Posted 31 July 2012 - 06:02

Did the recipe say anything about it turning brown? Do you know anything more about how they used it?

Since it changed rather quickly, I'm wondering if they didn't still use it after it "browned up" since they went to all that work to make it? This is a long shot, but I can almost imagine Granny telling the grandkids that they would have to wait a week before they could use the new pokeberry ink. By then it would be a nice brown. Of course, it sounds like it would turn brown whether it was in the bottle, or on the paper.

Thanks for posting! I'm interested in how people did things when they didn't have access to mass production.


No, it never mentioned anything about it turning brown. And apparently no letters exist from colonial days that were written with pokeberry, because they faded so fast. I find the ink does not flow well once it has begun to brown in the bottle, so letting it age a little bit before writing doesn't seem to be a good idea (the magenta color goes so fast!) This is just an ink that is meant to be enjoyed in the short-term. It's a novelty seasonal ink for me that I like to make each summer since the stuff grows in my own yard (and I'm very tolerant of weeds!) :D

Edited by fiberdrunk, 31 July 2012 - 06:02.

Find my homemade ink recipes on my Flickr page here.

"I don't wait for inspiration; inspiration waits for me." --Akiane Kramarik

#14 amberleadavis

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Posted 31 July 2012 - 07:23

But how does it taste?

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#15 fiberdrunk

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Posted 31 July 2012 - 21:19

But how does it taste?


Dunno... I don't eat the berries. The seeds inside the berries are the most toxic part of the plant (crushed seeds, anyway... they're very hard to crush, though, and usually pass right through). There are people who make jelly and pie from them but I'm too chicken to do anything with the berries other than make ink with them. The herbalist Susan Weed dries the berries and swallows one whole as an anti-inflammatory for sore joints-- she says she's felt a little spacey at times afterwards. The cooked greens supposedly taste similar to spinach. Tincture made from the roots is quite nasty but makes powerful medicine. If improperly prepared as food or medicine (or if too high a dose is used), this plant can cause horrible vomiting and diarrhea, according to my herbal books. Do your homework if you plan to do anything with it other than make ink.

Edited by fiberdrunk, 31 July 2012 - 21:22.

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#16 amberleadavis

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Posted 31 July 2012 - 23:56

But how does it taste?


Dunno... I don't eat the berries. The seeds inside the berries are the most toxic part of the plant (crushed seeds, anyway... they're very hard to crush, though, and usually pass right through). There are people who make jelly and pie from them but I'm too chicken to do anything with the berries other than make ink with them. The herbalist Susan Weed dries the berries and swallows one whole as an anti-inflammatory for sore joints-- she says she's felt a little spacey at times afterwards. The cooked greens supposedly taste similar to spinach. Tincture made from the roots is quite nasty but makes powerful medicine. If improperly prepared as food or medicine (or if too high a dose is used), this plant can cause horrible vomiting and diarrhea, according to my herbal books. Do your homework if you plan to do anything with it other than make ink.


I adore Susan Weed.
I was kinda joking about how we all "lick" our pens to start them.Posted Image

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#17 fiberdrunk

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Posted 01 August 2012 - 02:37

I adore Susan Weed.
I was kinda joking about how we all "lick" our pens to start them.Posted Image



Hee!
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#18 N2theBreach

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Posted 01 August 2012 - 03:16

This is just an ink that is meant to be enjoyed in the short-term. It's a novelty seasonal ink for me that I like to make each summer since the stuff grows in my own yard (and I'm very tolerant of weeds!) :D


How selfless of you to be tolerant of the weeds!:) We had pokeweed on the small farmette where we lived when I was very young (goats & sheep, about a dozen each) so I think I learned my tolerance for weeds from my parents. Weeds can be useful. :roflmho:

#19 Chris S

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Posted 04 August 2012 - 20:42

Now I really want to know about the taste (and after effects) of a Pokeberry juice and vodka shooter.
All I want is 1 more pen, and 1 more bottle of ink, and maybe 1 more pad of paper. Well, at least until tomorrow. Oh yeah, and throw in that bottle of single malt. Is that asking for too much?

thanks Chris.

#20 fiberdrunk

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Posted 11 August 2012 - 19:10

Update: Well, the pokeberry ink didn't even last a month before it began to change in the bottle, though it did stay pinker longer than the vinegar/salt recipe. It began to separate and have flow problems, too, the older it got, even after shaking it back together. So as I've said before, this is a novelty ink to enjoy in the very short-term. Make up enough for only a week or two of use. You can freeze the berries if you want more ink during the off-season. The writing sample that has been kept in the dark still looks nice and pink. Writing samples put in the sun faded completely within about 5-6 days. I'll post again in several months what the writing samples stored in the dark look like. I'm curious if they will brown or fade or not. Past vinegar recipe ink remained pink in the dark but faded dramatically over time.

And no, don't drink this ink, lol!

Edited by fiberdrunk, 11 August 2012 - 19:30.

Find my homemade ink recipes on my Flickr page here.

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