I’ve recently learned to recognize pokeweed, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s on our school campus (the picture above isn’t from school; it’s from a recent visit to McKinney Roughs). Well, shortly the plant won’t be at the school any longer. All parts of it are considered highly toxic to humans, and for our kids’ safety, the plant has to go (it was right by the Kindergarten wing, as well). I apologize to the nearby birds — I’ll plant three more berrying plants in my own yard just to make up for it. It’s such a shame — what a great native wildlife plant.
I did get the pokeweed berries off right away, since they might look enticing to a hungry youngster or foolish adult, and I’ll pull the whole plant out very soon. Then I did what any good mom would do — I took the poisonous berries home right away to do a project with my kids. No, not that kind of project… geez!
According to multiple sources, fermented pokeweed ink was used to write
the Declaration of Independence, as well as letters during the Civil War. (Edit: Thanks to Dana R., who contacted the National Archives and found out that the Declaration and the Constitution were written in iron gall ink — this means another ink-creating experience awaits me!) Native Americans used the berry juice to decorate their horses and dye cloth, and even used it for war paint. But given that the toxins from the juice can be absorbed through the skin, you won’t find me recreating that part of history.
What did appeal to me, however, was making ink. I donned gloves and carefully crushed them to all sorts of juicy greatness.
I then strained the mixture through pantyhose into a funnel (this last part was cool — with my gloves on and all the red juice squeezing out from the stained lump, I looked like a surgeon massaging a heart — granted the heart was about the size of that of a chicken, but still it was c-o-o-l cool). And from the funnel, the juice flowed into a small bottle.
Next I added a pinch of yeast to the liquid to help it ferment. I’m keeping the liquid out of the sun, too, so that it doesn’t turn brown right away from the UV rays. That cork is just there for show right now, as I need to let the gases escape during fermentation.
I’m going to teach the kids a little calligraphy, I think, to go along with the ink. Hopefully in a few days I’ll get to update the ink report with sample writing. What fun! (EDIT: My son ended up using the ink for a nifty visual for his Social Studies project on the American colonies.)
Note: I talked to a teacher about making this a lesson for the Social Studies classes at school, but the timing was all wrong for either studying about Native Americans or the later American history. Perhaps if I still have ink, I can share it with them then. Or maybe I’ll be able to find some more pokeweed berries elsewhere and enjoy another project.