Berry Ink

by Daisy

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NOTE:  The following post incorrectly identified this as greenbriar, while it was later revealed by an alert reader to be passiflora lutea, or yellow passionflower.  It can still be used to make ink.

“Their hands and mouths covered in blue.  Do you have any idea what it could be?”  My husband’s voice was a mixture of concern and bewilderment.

Actually, I did.  I checked out the telltale stains. They looked so stereotypically naughty.

“It’s the greenbriar berries.”

I’d been researching them lately, intending to make a batch of ink.  The one thing I hadn’t learned about them was whether or not they were toxic if ingested.

“You bathe them while I Google,” I suggested.

Apparently they’re edible in a pinch, if not actually tasty.  The tender spring leaves and shoots more so than the fall berries.  A call to the Poison Control Center informed me they weren’t poisonous.  Whew.

My next problem was they stripped the vines of most of the berries.  I didn’t have enough to make the standard recipe, but I made a small sample batch.  Here’s the recipe, not archival safe, mind you, but good for playing around with.

Berry Ink

1/2 cup berries (any berries will do)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. vinegar

Crush the berries, strain through a fine sieve, and add the salt and vinegar.  Keep in a sealed container in a cool dark place.

It makes a very fun, purply-blue ink/paint.  Cards, stamping projects, maybe in combination with some homemade paper.


The bonuses of having scraggly patches of wildness, unkempt corners, weeds.

Wonderful, wise weeds.  If I kept to the conventions of suburban perfection I would have zoysia, crepe myrtle, boxwood, azaleas, pansies in fall and begonias in summer, period.  All else would be THE ENEMY.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Kat September 16, 2010 at 2:29 pm

We’ve done this and it’s lots of fun.
Also made some ink from willow galls and a rusty nail. Or maybe it was wild rose galls? Can’t remember off-hand, and the ink wasn’t as instantly fun as the berry ink…

Nicki September 16, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Love i!

Anna September 16, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Are you sure that’s a greenbriar? There are lots of different species, but that doesn’t look much like one to my eye. All of the greenbriars I know (Atlantic states in the U.S.) have flowers in umbels. That actually looks more like something in the passionflower family.

brandi September 16, 2010 at 7:31 pm

This sounds interesting. I will have to put this on my list of things to try. Thanks.

Lindsay September 16, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Would the ink recipe be good for dying cloth?

Handful September 16, 2010 at 8:37 pm

I am gonna go ahead and stick with my ink PEN… but the picture is PRICELESS!

Alice September 17, 2010 at 12:00 am

Thanks for the recipe. Hope the children are all alright. Would that be white vinegar or cider vinegar in the recipe? The dyeing fabric question above… would heat setting after the dyeing process help keep the color after dyeing the fabric? I do know that when my children were small and we picked berries they all had stains all over them and their clothes that were very hard to get out.

Tanya Walton September 17, 2010 at 12:21 am

well I think it looks like the children had a wonderful time…how log did it take for them to become ‘unstained’??

The homemade ink looks great…now the children just need to find some stray feathers so they can write with a quill….could be a wonderful novelty gift for someone who likes art too.

portia September 17, 2010 at 10:10 am

Pretty name & pretty photo.
I am also curious about whether the plant is greenbriar, or Smilax. I couldn’t find any source for a trilobed variety and all the references I found have spines or prickles, which your photo doesn’t show. Also, Smilax berries appear to form clusters instead of single berries as shown in your photo.
If it is a variety of greenbriar, it is highly invasive so you may want to pot a specimen to prevent it from taking over everything else in your yard.

Tomato Lady September 22, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Hi portia–To the best of my knowledge it fits the description of a smilax variety–yes, it does have thorns and the berries are in small clusters when the birds haven’t found most of them. It is invasive indeed. I just keep whacking at it and boy, is it tenacious.

Tomato Lady September 22, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Tanya Walton–It wasn’t too bad, a good long bath was all it took. I’ll be on the lookout for quill-worthy feathers.

Tomato Lady September 22, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Alice–White vinegar, I should have specified, thanks. I will have to try the dyeing myself to see. If there are any berries left . . .

Tomato Lady September 22, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Lindsay–I haven’t researched this question, and what sort of mordant would be recommended. It is a good idea for another project–I’m eager to see for myself.

Tomato Lady September 22, 2010 at 8:53 pm

Handful–Ha! I’m with you. Very romantic and all, but there’s a reason we’ve all switched to BIC, isn’t there?

Tomato Lady September 22, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Anna–I’d love for someone to find out if I’ve made a mistake. There’s always the first one.


chris September 27, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Passiflora lutea. Fruits non-poisonous. Definitely not greenbriar.

Tomato Lady September 27, 2010 at 8:26 pm

chris–Awesome, thanks! I thought I’d looked everywhere, and greenbriar was the closest. Thanks a million! Now I’ll have to amend my post.

Sophiathebackyardfarmer August 12, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Can you like die cloth with it?

Daisy August 12, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Sophia–I’ve never tried it. You might have to use something to fix the color, and you may get a color different from the actual berry color when you do.

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