Acorn ink, derived from the mighty oak tree, can be a wonderful addition to your druid practice or art studio. Inks can be used for all manner of useful things, from drawing and artwork to the creation of sigils, writing in a druid’s journal, or engaging in other magical work. In this post, I’ll share a method for making an acorn ink as well as a rust garden (that you can use to strengthen the color of this and other natural inks, like walnut). I’m posting this now because I have found that acorns are best gathered for this not right after they drop, but after they’ve sat on the ground for some time (such as over the winter months). This is a way for you to use acorns pretty much year-round, connect deeply to the energy of the oak tree, and localize your practice.
Ink making was once a common practice before the advent of commercial inks. It was a sacred practice, for the arts of literacy and materials for drawing, writing, and painting were rare and hard to produce. Toady, with the over-abundance of everything at the expense of nature, it’s wise to practice some of these older ways and reattune with the balance, wisdom, and joy of our ancestors. Ink making is actually quite simple and very rewarding and you will get colors that you can’t purchase commercially. If you are interested in this topic, you might also want to check out my earlier post on berry inks.
The Magic of the Oak
Oak trees are special, particularly to those in the druid tradition. The ancient druids did their rituals in groves of oaks. The ancient Irish considered the oak one of the seven sacred trees. Many cultures around the world venerated oaks, which we can see from the use in military symbols and coats of arms throughout the world. The oak is a symbol of strength, persistence, courage, wisdom, and honor.
According to John Michael Greer’s Natural Magic Encyclopedia, Oak is “the preeminent tree of power in ancient symbolism” being of particular use to those who channel high levels of energy, for weather magic, and for earth magic. Acorns themselves are symbols of fertility in ancient times to the present. In the Ogham, Oak is represented by the word “duir”. In ancient Sanskrit, duir literally means “door”. Oaks, then, are not just symbols of strength but doorways to many other things (the inner worlds, worlds of spirit, new journeys, etc). It is tied with the time of midsummer. The oak has very strong wood and was often employed as the Yule Log (where the oak’s power would allow the light to return to the earth once again!) In the Hoodoo traditions, oaks is used to remove hexes or jinxes, usually through a wash. Oak galls (which you can also make ink with, also using iron) are specifically used in the hoodoo tradition to lend power to any other working. So you can see how having some oak ink might be a useful tool! What better opportunity to honor the sacred oak than by making some high-quality ink that can be used for drawing purposes, spiritual journaling, or magical uses.
Making your Ink
Making acorn ink is simple and requires a few basic ingredients and tools
- Acorns, older are better
- Something to crush your acorns with (mortar and pestle, hammer and plastic bag, etc)
- Vinegar (preferably rust garden vinegar, see below)
- Water to cover acorns
Gathering Acorns. I like to make acorn ink early in the spring. The reasoning here is simple–you can easily find last fall’s acorns, and whatever is left, wasn’t a viable food source nor will sprout. So you are using the true “castaways” from the oak–probably acorns that had a few worms, etc. I also find the ink is stronger if you are using older acorns. As always, ask permission to gather and make sure to leave an offering in thanks. To make about a cup of ink, you can gather 2 cups acorns (a cup of ink is a LOT of ink, just FYI!)
Crushing Acorns. After you’ve harvested your acorns, you will need to crush them. If you have a large mortar and pestle, this works great. You can also crush them easily by getting a thick plastic bag (like an old used feed bag) and using a hammer. Or just crush them up on a large stone. Make sure you save the small bits. The more that you crush, the more effective extraction you will get.
Cover acorns with water. Barely cover your acorns with water, just enough to fully cover them in a small pan. The more water you add, the less of an extraction you will have. So go for a small pot and barely cover them.
Soak overnight. Soak your acorns overnight if possible. While you don’t have to soak overnight, the ink is stronger and more potent if you do.
Simmer. You will want to simmer your acorn mixture for a few hours. It’s better to go long and slow than fast and quick. As you boil, keep a good eye on the water level. Early in my boiling, I might add a little water, but later on, especially in the last hour, I let the water boil off. The more it boils off, the more high-quality ink you will have.
Strain. Next, using a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth, strain your ink.
Add Rust garden vinegar or regular vinegar. If you take the time to make a rust garden (highly recommended, see next section), you can add a few tablespoons of rust garden vinegar (about 3 tbsp per cup of ink) to your mixture. This darkens the color and helps preserve it. If you aren’t going to make a rust garden, you still will want to add a tablespoon or two of vinegar to help preserve your ink.
Storage. You can store it in a mason jar with a lid. I recommend keeping it in the fridge as it will last longer. You can keep it in the fridge for quite a while (several years). It is likely that over time, it will develop some bluish mold. Just get a strainer or a fork and remove the mold–the ink is still good.
Optional: Making a Rust Garden
Making a rust garden is a way to improve the quality and color of your acorn ink (it also allows you to make oak gall ink and walnut ink; I’ll cover oak gall ink in an upcoming post). All that you need to start your rust garden are some rusty objects (like iron nails) and some vinegar (any kind will do). Gather up your rusty objects and cover them in vinegar. If you want to help speed it along, you can actually remove the objects, let them be exposed to oxygen for 24 hours, and then put them back in the vinegar vat. I find this to be a little tedious, so instead, I just shake up my rust garden every once in a while and let time do the work. You can start your rust garden in a mason jar. As the items continue to rust, the rusty bits get suspended in vinegar, eventually creating a beautiful dark brown shade. In a few months, you’ll have a very rusty, brown-black vinegar and it will be awesome for making natural inks!
However, this practice takes some time – at least 3-5 months–so keep that in mind. You can always make the ink, then store it in the fridge while your rust garden “grows” and then return to it later (that’s what I did in creating the ink shared in this post). Or you can start your rust garden now, and it will be ready for when this year’s batch of acorns drop in the fall. Be aware here that over time, the jar lid itself will actually rust away–you can see that already happening to my jar here. Thus, I recommend putting either a plastic lid on the jar or else a piece of plastic in between the lid and the jar can help preserve it over time (it will take a few years for the lid to rust away due to the corrosion of the vinegar). Not that I have ANY experience with this happening, haha!
If you use some of your rust garden, you can just add more vinegar and keep letting it rust further. Keep it on a shelf and then anytime you want to make natural inks like acorn, oak gall, or walnut, it will be ready for you!
Using your ink
Once you have your ink, it is ready to use! Here are just a few possibilities for using your ink:
- Pen and ink: An old fashioned dip pen works great with this kind of ink, provided it is well strained. You can use your ink on journals, magical sigils, drawings, and so much more.
- Sigils and other magical work. Consider saving this ink for a special purpose such as writing in your spiritual journal or making sigils.
- Natural arts. You can do a lot of interesting things with such high-quality ink: ink drawings, ink washes, and more.
- Leather and Wood dye. This ink will also dye a lot of surfaces (if you want to use it in this fashion, you’ll have to make large batches, which isn’t unreasonable in mast years when you can harvest abundant acorns). I’m experimenting now with it as a leather stain and its been great!
I hope this post inspires you to try to make some of your own acorn ink! I feel like acorn ink making is a great practice for the aspiring bard or druid!
PS: I hope you like the new look of the Druids Garden Blog! I’ve been using the same theme for so long, I thought a change was necessary. Blessings!