Berry Ink and Reed Pens
From the archives! Originally posted October 2014.
In keeping with my sustainable mindset and enjoyment in discovering new uses for overlooked materials, I've been experimenting with inks and pens. Berry inks and reed pens, that is!
After some extensive internet research, I discovered several helpful resources on making ink from natural materials, and creating writing utensils from renewable resources like bamboo, cattail and phragmites reeds, bird feathers, and such. I don't often find feathers large enough to use as quill pens. I think I've seen just one in the last year's ramblings. I dislike the idea of purchasing bird feathers, since I don't know where the feathers came from or if the bird gave them up willingly. I do see plenty of reeds, canes and sticks on my walks, especially at this time of year when everything is dying back and drying out for the wintertime.
Berry Inks - round 1
One day last week I hopped off the bus early so I could walk through Miller Nature Area. Ann Arbor has so many parks, nature areas and green spaces that it takes a while to visit them all. I'd not been to Miller Nature Area yet. Shortly after boarding at the bus terminal - in the correct area, I'll add for the record - I discovered I'd chased after and boarded the incorrect bus, taking me a little farther north than usual. Since I would be nearby, I decided to have a nature area adventure on my way home.
Miller Nature Area is a nice little woodsy, overgrown space in the middle of a neighborhood, with small trails up, down, and around. More information and a map can be found here: Miller Nature Area . On the walk home I found poke berries, buckthorn berries, virginia creeper berries, walnut hulls, and hickory nut shells. I brought a little bit of everything home to experiment with ink-making.
The first stage of berry ink making was super simple. I separated the berries into small dishes, mashed them with the back of a spoon, and there you have it. I have two cartridge ink pens that I experimented with after making the ink but...well, these pens don't work very well with dip ink. I got more results by dunking the pen nib and using that to paint calligraphy-style shapes on the page. I was able to write with this pen, but the nib held very little ink and had to be dipped again for each letter. Very time-consuming and not ideal for what I have in mind.
*It should be noted that this method of ink-making is super simple but spoils easily. I had vinegar-smelling poke, buckthorn and virginia creeper within two days (sealed but unrefrigerated). Ultimately I'd like to figure out how to make a more stable ink, but as this is round 1 of many, two days of writable ink is pretty cool in my book.
Reed Ink Pens - round 1
This past Saturday I went out to Clarkston for a jim mcdonald walk/talk about apple and its various uses in delicious healing. Standing underneath a crabapple tree after tasting its SUPER astringent, puckery apples, I looked down and saw a broken, toasty brown goldenrod cane, bent over near my feet. About a foot long, a quarter inch in diameter with a curve at one end, it looked like a twisty letter J. I thought it might work for a pen...so I picked it up. The smaller end had broken diagonally, and the pith was dry enough to be scraped out gently with my smallest fingernail. It already looked like a viable writing utensil, but it wasn't until I got home later that evening and shaped the ends with a penknife that I discovered what a find I'd made!
In the picture below, you see my initial attempts with the cartridge pen on the left, and the super successful reed pen on the right. Shapes vs. words! The kitties were very impressed.
I plan to refine my reed pen a little more to make it longer-lasting. After several phrases and more than a few dunks into the ink, it softened enough that I noticed a change in its writing precision. My goal is to use plant ink in my herbal labeling, so anything I write with should last for more than a few labels at a time.
More investigations into unconventional pens and inks to follow, as well as a report on the vintage ink pen that should be arriving by mail shortly. Thanks for reading!
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Herbalist plant ramblings and adventures in green medicine, by Linden Tree Herbals potion-maker Ginny.
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