Notes from Windward: #69


Black Walnut and Acorn Ink

Andrew explores options for making ink

     Down along the Klickitat, there's a section where the road is bordered by dozens of old black walnut trees, and in fall the nuts litter the road begging to be put to use. Last fall, Opalyn stopped to pick up a few buckets of the nuts complete with their fleshy hulls. After a lot of work shelling the nuts, we had a bunch of the fleshy hulls left over. They're sort of like a peach in that the fruits as they fall from the tree have a stone in the center--in this case, the actual walnut.

      The hulls are green when they fall from the tree, but they quickly turn to a dark black that will leave lasting stains on your hands. A little research revealed that walnut hulls have been historically used to make pen ink and dyes for clothing before the now prevalent use of artificial dyes. Katie had also been making ink from our acorns in that in order make them more palatable she was boiling the tannins out of them before incorporating them in food. The water left over from boiling was a light brown and suitable for use as an ink or dye.

     Here is the process I used to extract the pigments from the walnut hulls.

  1. Soaked roughly 1 pound of walnut hulls in 1 1/2 to 2 gallon of water for a few days.
  2. Leaving in the hulls, I brought the solution to a boil and simmered for a few hours.
  3. When satisfied with the darkness of the solution I stopped boiling and let it cool
  4. Then strained out the hulls and added about a quarter cup of vinegar to make the dye more permanent. Then I simply stored it in an opaque container in a cool dark place.

     The end result was about one quart of dark ink to be used for wood stains, dyes and water colors.

fresh acorn ink

     For the acorn dye I did basically the same thing, with a few exceptions. Since I was using the byproducts of one of Katie's projects I cannot say the exact amount of acorns that were originally boiled in the water that made the tannin solution used. I would estimate that it was about half a gallon of acorns boiled in 2 gallons of water. In order to get a darker solution I boiled down the tannin solution and added 4 or 5 handfuls of sifted wood ash (Pine ash mostly). This made the boiling solution gray at first, but eventually it turned dark brown. After carefully straining out the solid particles I was left with about a quart of reddish-brown dye.

     The shade of the solution is a direct result of the density of particles suspended in the water, and ranges from a neutral brown to almost black. You can also change the color to a more reddish brown to purple by adding of sodium hydroxide (lye) or potassium permanganate.

fresh walnut ink

     Besides its use as a dye or colorant these products can be used for a variety of other things.

     The tannins in the acorn solution is also an astringent, sore throat relief, for treatment of diarrhea and dysentery, hemorrhaging, fatigue, skin ulcers, and in small amounts to halt the growth of tumors, while also causing tumors if used excessively over long periods of time.

     The compounds in walnut hulls and walnut tree bark have also been used as an astringent, a laxative, and to expel parasitic worms in intestines.

     All of this from something that most people throw away, or disregard as something only for the animals!

putting the ink to use

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 69