23 September 2010

Polka-berry Ink

Ripe berries of the common polk/ poke plant.

Our Treasure has been after me for a week or so...
"Momma, when are we going to make polka-berry ink?"

Friday just past was a gorgeous crisp autumnish day,
and the time was right... so out we went with our bowls.

This is a young poke plant, the top 4-5 leaves could be plucked
off and boiled twice for a delicious pot-herb.

I couldn't help spending a little time with the camera
capturing the beauty of the plants from which we were harvesting berries.
It was interesting to note the new plants as above,
and the mature plants with their variety of colors.

Amazing color variation in the dying leaves...
sorry it is a little blurry, the wind was blowing!

The stems of the berry clusters were absolutely gorgeous,
and I love the delicate flower-like remains
when the berries were removed.

Even the contrast of the very un-ripened green berries
with the magenta stems was sensual.

But back to the berry-picking.

From the time our Treasure was a tiny baby in a sling
we have taken her on our outdoor hikes and foraging treks.
We have taught her from day one
what plants and which parts are useful, and their applications.
We have also cautioned her
 (ok, at times it sounded more like threats!)
that she MUST always ask our permission
before putting anything in her mouth
as some plants and berries that are poisonous
look very much like ones that are not,
and we did not want her to become sick or die.
Thankfully, she has listened and believed us
and is very good about obeying this mandate.

It is a joy to see her develop as a young herbalist...
to have an appreciation and respect for the
useful plant world we habitate...
yet to also develop the wisdom to leave alone
the things she has insufficient knowledge of.

Poke, or polk, as some spell it,
is a plant useful as an edible pot herb, medicinally,
and for making natural dye.
Birds love the berries too, and therefore
propogate the species far and wide.

The berries are said to be toxic,
although they are reported to be used medicinally as well.
Why someone would even want to eat the berries
is beyond me, I couldn't get them beyond my nose!
When crushed they just smell bitter! Yucky!
Someday I hope to study up more on the medicinal uses,
but until I do, and cautiously experiment,
I won't recommend the plant for that.

I do have some experience with eating
young poke greens in the spring,
they are very tasty and none of our family had negative effects.
It is best to avoid using parts of the plant with red color in it,
as that is evidence of a chemical rising in the plant
that can have negative effects on the human system.
(Like I said, I don't have enough study or experience
to tell you all the chemical names or details yet!)
I've used poke berries in the past for making dye
and had gorgeous results, though the color is
reported to fade quickly with exposure to light.
But those will be other posts at other times.

Back to our polka-berry ink making experiment!

We exhausted the plants in our yard of their berries,
and had the stains to show for it.
Soap and water took most of it off,
and it was all gone by evening.

I had done some internet research on making polka-berry ink,
and decided to follow directions at this link:
So we carefully measured out 8 ounces of poke berries...

...placed them in a clean water bottle along with 2 1/2 teaspoons of yeast,
shook it all up with the cap on, removed the cap and replaced it
with some paper towelling secured with a rubber band,
and placed it in a dark cupboard to do its fermenting
for the next 24 hours.

We actually let the fermenting ink sit for about 48 hours
and then placed a square of an old cotton dishtowel into a clean jar
and dumped the mass of pulp into it and squeezed it out.
I won't be filtering it any further, as the above directions direct,
as I don't plan to put it in a fountain pen,
but rather use it for dip-pens.

The Treasure couldn't wait--she grabbed a chicken feather
and started dipping and scratching--
absolutely thrilled that it works!!
I did a little carving on the "quill pen" and the result
is what you see above.
I need to do more research and experimenting with the pen,
but for now she's happy as can be.

There you have it,
Polka-berry Ink!

(p.s. The Treasure has called them "polka-berries"
since she could talk about them...I should correct her,
but just hearing her say that gives me a vision
 of a merry party of wee-woodsy-folks
in passionate-poke-berry-purple-and-contrasting-green attire
dancing happily to polka music...)

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