History – Making Walnut Ink


We’re studying the Middle Ages this year (and next) in History, and although it was also called the Dark Ages*, there was a little bit of writing going on – generally by the monks.  This was especially prevalent when Saint Augustine came to Britain, founded the first Christian churches, and started to teach others how to write.

There were many ways to make ink, and most used methods of pounding out different types of barks, mushrooms, or coal and boiling them in order to produce a staining liquid.  To get my kids in on the fun of writing with quills, I made walnut ink.  Some moms in our co-op were gracious to pick up and bring in a couple of bags of walnuts, freshly dropped from the trees (we live in the midwest, so they are EVERYWHERE in the neighborhoods).  I wanted to make the ink WITH the kids at school, but after doing this, I’m thanking God to that unanswered prayer!  I’m sure their mothers will thank me once they see my hands.  Read on:

First, gather about 10-15 felled walnuts.  You can use both the ones with the green flesh still surrounding the shell, and the ones that are just the black shells.  FIRST, PUT ON GLOVES!!!!!!!   If you’re using the green fleshy ones, take a steak knife and cut it open like you would an avocado.  Once you’ve made the cut, twist it open, again, just like an avocado.  It’ll be a bit difficult, but it doesn’t matter it you end up tearing it, because it’s all going in the pot.  The idea is to expose the flesh and the shells.  Put all these parts in a large pot and put just in enough water to cover everything.  Bring it to boil, and then lower the heat and let it simmer for an hour.  If you didn’t heed my warning about gloves, this is a great time to go take a picture of your hands so you can upload the picture to Facebook and tell all your friends how stupid you were.  Ahem.

The above picture is what they look like after simmering for an hour.  The ink is essentially ready at this point.  Use a metal slotted spoon (or something like it) to scoop out the large parts and throw them away.  I suggest using metal, because this will want to stain anything porous – like plastic.  Using a metal strainer, pour the remaining contents of the pot into your container.  It made a LOT in my case.  I have enough to write my own Book of Kells.


I felt like I needed to make sure the ink was going to work, so I did a little quality control.  I dipped a chopstick in the ink and wrote on a piece of paper, and it was so cool!  Granted, it wasn’t as authentic, because back in the Middle Ages they would write on dried calf and sheep skin, but since I fresh out of that, ye olde paper would have to do.

My daughter decided to try her hand at the “quality control,” and this is what she wrote.  Hardy har-har.  I have nothing but respect for the Amish, but I’m too ADD and worldly for that!  I do make my own laundry soap now…  Does that count?

This is what my hands looked like RIGHT after starting the walnut shells to boil.  I thought, “Gee.  This kind-of DOES stain, but it’s not THAT bad…”

And this is what my hands looked like by the time I went to bed!  OMG!  My nails look like I’ve been digging in the dirt!  This is worse than henna, because at least THAT’S done in pretty patterns.  I can only hope it doesn’t last as long as henna does…   Yes, this picture went up on Facebook so all my friends could see how stupid I was.

*The Dark Ages is not a period of time when there wasn’t enough light.  The name refers to the fact that most people didn’t know how to write, so there aren’t a lot of written accounts of this time in history.  Most people passed their stories down orally by bards.  History lesson done.


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