The best things in life are free. Here’s a nature craft project that’s great for scouts and camping trips:

How to identify pokeberries. They are everywhere. Because birds poop them.

When I do a nature art week at girl scout camp, this is one of the first projects we do. Pokeberries are not edible, and will stain hands, but the colors are glorious and it can lead to some great experiments with ink making, dye, and how acidity/alkalinity affects color. This year I gathered them into a big ziploc bag.

So much pink and purple, and it stains. Wear gloves.

If you are getting set for camping or backpacking, bring along a heavy duty resealable bag, a couple pinches of baking soda, a scrap of white fabric (cotton, silk or wool), a little vinegar, some salt, and rubber gloves. You will want to bring or reuse a plastic beverage bottle of some sort to store the juice.


Pokeberry has been used to make ink for a long time. Civil war soldier, settlers and others used it to write letters. It started out purple, and over time went orangey-brown. If it was tucked into a book or otherwise away from light it stayed darker.

If you are camping or just doing a quick experiment, you won’t have time to experiment with different preparations, but if you want to store the ink for a longer time, you’ll need to take some extra steps.

Preserve, or ferment if you plant to store it for any length of time!

The only real difference between an ink, a paint and a dye is how thick it is. If you want to keep your pokeberry juice long enough to experiment with it, you will want to preserve or ferment it. I once set up a fermentation experiment in my studio, with glass bottles and tight corks. I came back after a long hot weekend to find the bottle labeled “plain pokeberry juice” had dispersed its contents onto my ceiling.
Preserve, ferment intentionally, or risk a colorful explosion. How’s that for interesting art supplies?

Color magic and a chemistry demo for homeschoolers, scouts and curious grown ups.
These are the changes after a couple of days. The dark purple/high PH stripes are more fugitive than the higher acid, but the pink is darkening.

Here’s an easy list if you want something to print:

1.) Cut pokeberries into a large ziploc bag. Label carefully and keep away from little kids, the berry seeds are poisonous.

2.) Squeeze out the juice with your hands, then snip off a bottom corner of the bag and let the juice run into a bottle. If you are home, a dollar-tree, (craft-use-only) colander and funnel can help, but are not required.

3.) Pokeberry juice stored tightly will ferment and explode, so add salt, or vinegar, or alcohol, ferment it yourself with yeast, or let its own wild yeast do the job. There are lots of articles on different approaches, look them up or experiment on your own.

4.) Acidity makes colors bright pink, and alkalinity turns it purple which eventually fades to tan. Experiment with combinations on paper, fabric, and other surfaces, keeping in mind that exposure to light will make the brightest colors temporary.

I will be going into specifics about ink making in an upcoming blog when I am working with walnut ink and handmade quill pens. Stay tuned.

My daughter Molly at a fashion show fundraiser in a dress I dyed with pokeberry… and pokeberry earrings made from black glass beads strung on magenta. It is kind of a dusty rose color a year later.

My friends keep telling me to publish a book. I’m working on it, but in the meantime I feel like the old nature based skills should belong to everyone. They are history, science and art, and demos like this might be useful for homeschoolers, scout leaders, outdoorsy creatives and other quirky folks.

My favorite creative projects do NOT begin with a trip to the craft store, and you sure don’t have to pay to watch me do this stuff on my blog. But if you have a zillion extra dollars and want to see more of these, a few bucks would be awesome. I added a link below. I kind of hate it (monthly? yearly? omg) and this whole concept is embarrassing but it’s boilerplate and I can’t find anything smaller or more subtle. Anyway thanks.


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