End of Summer Making

Pokeberry Ink and Drinking Rose Mallow Tisane

Summer came to an end this week, taking with it the worst of the damp heat and wonderful summer rainstorms. As summer fades and fall begins, the pokeberry flourishes in several places, and the last of the late summer hibiscus blossoms still linger.

Pokeberry

Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana, also called dragonberry) is a poisonous plant used to make poke sallet, a survival food of the South and the Southern Appalachian mountains, and to make ink and paint.

The young leaves are harvested and boiled in two to three changes of water to make them safe(ish) for ingestion.

A typical recipe would be to harvest the leaves from a young plant, rinse them in cool, clean water, then bring the leaves to a rolling boil in a large pot for at least twenty minutes, then to discard the cooking water, rinse the leaves in cool water, and repeat the boiling and the rinsing at least two more times. The washed leaves would then be fried in a cast-iron skillet in bacon grease for two to three minutes, the crisped bacon added to them, and then the leaves would be served with spices to taste. I like them generously sprinkled with cayenne and smoked salt.

Making Pokeberry Ink

This late summer, the pokeberry bushes in our yard had an abundance of berries. The berries make a brilliantly pink ink and paint that fades, over time, to a rusty brown similar to dried blood. It is common for witches to use it in spell books, though it is best to treat any page on which pokeberry ink is used with a UV resistant fixative, or over time the writing may fade to illegibility. Pokeberry ink writing or paintings let out in the sun will also naturally fade and disappear, so it is sometimes used in spells wherein the person intentionally wants the image to disappear.

Pokeberry ink is not water-resistant, so water will also remove any image or writing created using it, unless a fixative spray is applied.

Collect pokeberries carefully, as the juices of pokeweed can be absorbed through the skin and cause poisoning. Only harvest the dark red berries, as the unripe berries do not produce colored ink or paint. The blacker the berries, the better - fallen berries from the ground make excellent ink, but have more risk of staining fingers and being absorbed through the skin.

I’ve included three recipes for the ink, non-fermented, non-fermented and heated, and fermented.

Non-Fermented Pokeberry Ink Recipe

  • Pokeberries, 1 cup
  • Salt, ½ teaspoon per cup of berries
  • White vinegar, ½ teaspoon per cup of berries
  • Gloves
  • A funnel
  • Cheesecloth
  • A glass sealing jar
  • Archival spray varnish or fixative spray with UV resistance

Wearing gloves, strip the berries off the stems and collect for measurement. For every one cup of berries, before smashing them, the ratio calls for ½ teaspoon of salt and a ½ teaspoon of white vinegar. Smash the berries until they produce as much liquid as possible. Strain through a cheesecloth and funnel into a sealing jar, making sure to get as much of the juice as possible, filtering as many times as needed until the liquid flows smoothly and is free of particles.

Add the salt and vinegar to the juice and stir to combine. Seal the glass jar and label it. Store the bottle in a cool, dark space as the ink is photosensitive and breaks down in sunlight.

It is recommended that any paintings or writing made with pokeberry ink be treated with an archival spray varnish with UV protection or a UV resistant fixative spray of some kind, unless the fading is desired.

Use the ink like watercolor or in a liquid ink quill style pen.

Non-Fermented Heated Pokeberry Ink Recipe

  • Pokeberries, 1 cup
  • White vinegar, ½ teaspoon per cup of berries
  • Liquid gum Arabic ½ up to 2 tablespoons for each cup of ink (not berries; the final amount of liquid produced after straining)
  • Gloves
  • Stainless steel pot
  • A masher or muddler, ideally stainless steel, to avoid staining
  • A glass bowl
  • Fine mesh strainer or sieve
  • Cheesecloth
  • A funnel
  • A sealing glass jar
  • Archival spray varnish or fixative spray with UV resistance

Wearing gloves, strip the berries off the stems and collect for measurement. Place the berries into the stainless steel pot. Mash with the masher or muddler. Place the stainless steel pot over low to medium heat and add one ½ teaspoon of white vinegar

Cook the berries, mashing and muddling as needed bright pink juice is present. If the mixture over reduces or starts to condense into a thick paste, thin with more vinegar, ½ teaspoon at a time.

Turn the heat as low as possible and continue heating the berries for approximately 10 minutes, stirring fairly constantly burning.

Remove the pot from the heat and transfer the berries to a glass bowl to cool down.

Once the berries are completely cool, strain through cheesecloth and a fine mesh strainer or sieve, as many times as needed until the liquid flows smoothly and is free of particles.

Add the liquid gum Arabic to the liquid, using ½ teaspoon to 2 teaspoons or each cup of liquid produced after straining the berries. This will thicken the liquid, so add as much or as little as needed to reach the desired consistency. Stir until combined well.

Pour through the funnel into the sealing glass jar. Seal the glass jar and label it. Store the bottle in a cool, dark space as the ink is photosensitive and breaks down in sunlight.

It is recommended that any paintings or writing made with pokeberry ink be treated with an archival spray varnish with UV protection or a UV resistant fixative spray of some kind, unless the fading is desired.

Use the ink like watercolor or in a liquid ink quill style pen.

Fermented Pokeberry Ink Recipe

  • Pokeberries, enough to fill a 20-ounce bottle
  • Two glass 20-ounce bottles, with a cap or lid
  • Yeast, 1/4 ounce or approximately 2 1/4 teaspoons
  • Liquid gum Arabic, 2 tablespoons
  • Gloves
  • A funnel
  • Cheesecloth
  • A fine-mesh sieve or strainer
  • Sealing glass jar
  • Rubber bands
  • A glass bowl

Wearing gloves, strip the berries off the stems and collect for measurement. Using the funnel, place the berries into one of the 20-ounce glass bottles. Place the cap or lid on the bottle and shake vigorously to mash up the berries. Remove the cap or lid off the bottle and add the yeast and the liquid gum Arabic. Replace the lid on the bottle again and shake vigorously to thoroughly combine.

Remove the cap or lid from the bottle and a couple of layers of cheesecloth. Use the rubber band to hold it in place. Do not place the lid or the cap back onto the bottle, as the gases produced by fermentation need to be able to escape the bottle. If they cannot, the bottle may crack or explode.

Store the fermenting bottle in a dark, room temperature space for 24 hours to ferment. After the 24 hours have passed, remove the bottle from its fermentation location.

Strain the mixture into a glass bowl through cheesecloth and a fine mesh strainer or sieve, as many times as needed until the liquid flows smoothly and is free of particles.

From the glass bowl, pour the liquid through the funnel into the sealing glass jar. Seal the glass jar and label it. Store the bottle in a cool, dark space as the ink is photosensitive and breaks down in sunlight.

It is recommended that any paintings or writing made with pokeberry ink be treated with an archival spray varnish with UV protection or a UV resistant fixative spray of some kind, unless the fading is desired.

Use the ink like watercolor or in a liquid ink quill style pen.

Drinking Rose Mallow Tisane

Tisane of Fresh and Dried Hibiscus

Hibiscus is a genus of flowering plants in the Malvaceae family, more commonly referred to as the mallow family. The genus is comprised of several hundred species known for large, flamboyant flowers.

Some common species include the swamp rose mallow (scientific name Hibiscus moscheutos, also called rose mallow or eastern rosemallow or hardy hibiscus), roselle flower (Hibiscus sabdariffa, also called hibiscus tea plant), and tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, known colloquially as Chinese hibiscus, China rose, Hawaiian hibiscus, rose mallow and shoeblackplant.) and the rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus, also called the Korean rose (in South Korea), the Syrian ketmia, shrub althea, and rose mallow.)

As all or most of the species and varietals of hibiscus are colloquially referred to as rose mallow, it can be confusing to use common names.

We have multiple hibiscus plants in our garden, including a very large rose of Sharon/rose mallow (Hibiscus syriacus) that has been producing a couple of blossoms a day for most of the latter half of summer. All parts of Hibiscus syriacus are edible. The young leaves are eaten raw or cooked - they have a very mild flavor, and can be used in both fresh and wilted salads. The flowers are also eaten raw or cooked and can be added to salads or made into a tisane. The root is fibrous and mucilaginous and is somewhat unpleasant to eat, so is more often used in medicine than food. Medicinally, the plant is used to treat stomach aches and digestive complaints, respiratory soreness and rawness, raw throat, and dysmenorrhoea.

Scarlet Mallow
Midnight Magic

We also have scarlet rose mallow (Hibiscus coccineus, also called red hibiscus, swamp hibiscus, Texas star hibiscus, crimson rosemallow, and wild red mallow) and a midnight marvel rose mallow (a black foliaged cultivar that combines characteristics of H. coccineus, H. laevis, H. militaris, H. moscheutos, and H. palustris). Both are edible and used in tisanes.

The dried hibiscus I used to make our tisane we do not currently grow, but instead purchase from a supplier - roselle flower (Hibiscus sabdariffa), which is used to make an infusion popular through Central Asia, Southeast Asia, India, Africa, the Carribean, Australia,the Pacific Islands, and South America. The leaves are also edible and are popular in culinary use around the world. Medicinally, it is used as a diuretic and to treat high blood pressure. The flowers are tart and cranberry-like and produce a bright red liquid when steeped. The foliage is pleasantly sour.

Hibiscus is associated with Kali, for whom it is often given as offerings. It is also associated with good health, abundance, good fortune, and love.

We made a tisane of the fresh flowers of the Hibiscus syriacus in our garden and the aforementioned Hibiscus sabdariffa, pairing the sweet and tart bright red infusion with dark, salted chocolate and rosewater Turkish delight.

Hibiscus Tisane

  • Two fresh flowers of rose of Sharon/rose mallow (Hibiscus syriacus)
  • A handful of dried roselle flower (Hibsicus sabdariffa)
  • Hot, but not boiling, water
  • Sugar or honey, to taste, optional
  • Cream, to taste, optional
  • Teapot

Rinse and remove the petals from the rose of Sharon/rose mallow. Add the dried roselle flowers to the teapot and cover with hot, but not boiling, water. Allow to soften and begin steeping, two to three minutes, before adding the fresh petals of the rose of Sharon/rose mallow. Steep for three to five minutes further.

Serve with sweetener of choice and, optionally, cream. Cream will separate in hibiscus tisane, so if that texture or appearance distresses you, skip this. I take my Hibiscus sabdariffa tisane with milk as I find it softens the drying, tart, almost cranberry-like flavor.