Walnut Ink

It is the season here in the northern hemisphere for walnuts to start falling from the trees. And when that happens I always seem to get a bunch of inquiries about how to make walnut ink.

I have made Walnut ink more than a few times it is beautiful rich brown ink. In fact one of the scrolls I did when I lived in Northshield was written with it. It is a good and beautiful ink. I wrote an inquiry to the British Library in 2007.  After doing a few laps around the planet on the internet communication webs it landed on the desk of their expert who happened to be in Cairo at the time.  Her opinion is that walnut ink was never used in the middle ages or renaissance.  There is no evidence that it was.  Walnut dye was used in those times to dye cloth.   Walnut dye was not a permanent dye there is good reason to believe that a walnut ink would have been actively avoided on those grounds. Nothing wrong with using walnut ink. Just be aware that it is not an ink that was use pre-17th century. If you play in the SCA that means that this ink is NOT PERIOD.

I actually don’t have a real recipe for making walnut ink. I prefer to use the full fruit. Fresh walnuts or dried seems not to make any difference. Walnut shells alone will work but you have to use more of them than you would if you used the entire fruit.  It takes longer and in general it is really a more difficult process.

Squirrels have been known to chew through metal garage doors to get to stashes of walnuts.  This happened to a very good friend of mine who was storing them for an ink making class that weekend. So keep them sealed, covered and with a heavy weights on the container.  You do not need to take the walnut shells out, but certainly may.

You can soak them for a couple of weeks or you can boil them. I prefer to boil them myself. Either way make sure to keep the water levels up as you will lose water through evaporation or boiling.

If you use the full fruit you do not need to add any gum arabic. The fruit fluids work just fine as a binder.  As always, your experience may vary.  If you find that there isn’t enough binder add some gum arabic or binder of your choice.

I tend to use 2 parts water by volume to 1 part walnut fruit by volume.

If you want to play a little with the ink color you can add iron to the mix.  If you’re soaking the walnut fruits you can simply throw in scrap iron into the process for it to soak as well.  Or at the end of the soaking process you can add in iron sulfate.  Don’t throw it in at first.  If you do, you will alter the fermentation and mold growing process.

If you’re boiling the walnut ink I recommend using iron sulfate and putting it in after you have filtered out the “nature” parts of the walnut ink.

And yes, after you get done soaking or boiling the walnuts filter them out.  You can use a colander to get out the big pieces.  Then filter it again through linen cloth or cheese cloth.

I don’t have any more of a recipe than this.  It should get you started on making walnut ink.  Have fun!  And let me know how it works out for you.

3 responses to “Walnut Ink

  1. Hi Ian – there are 2 walnut ink recipes in my 1701 edition of W. Salmon, ‘Polygraphice’. Which is the 8th edition, so I think a case can be made for late-period use at least. If I find a digital scan of earlier editions online somewhere, I’ll check that. Both specify the outer green rind as the part to be boiled and strained, btw; one adds gum arabic the other not, and neither uses alum or any other adjunct/fixitive.

    • I’d love to see what you have. 101 years out if SCA period makes your argument difficult to support though. That said I’m all for being proven wrong. I love discovery.

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