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Making Your Own Botanical Inks

The wonders of plants are truly endless. I say often, I really will never know it all when it comes to plants and the magic of them. One thing that's really opened my eyes even further to the possibilities is my college. Pacific Rim College - which is located on Vancouver Island and specializes in courses on Herbal Medicine, Nutrition, Chinese Medicine, Women's Cycle Health and more. I'm currently enrolled in the Community Herbalist Certificate program and I couldn't be more enthralled with every little bit of information I learn!

I do admit during the summer I definitely was neglecting my studies, I blame it on it being foraging season. I've started to hunker down and get back to my studies lately and one of my school projects was to find ways to utilize medicinal plants for something OTHER than medicine. I thought long and hard about this because I really like to go outside the box when it comes to projects. Mostly just so I can really dig deeper in my learning. I settled on a few good ideas and one of them was botanical inks. I chose herbs because that's what I have an abundance of on hand and it follows the guidelines of my assignment. You can use so many different materials to create your own natural and plant powered inks.

Some materials you can use:

  • Dried Herbs

  • Dried Flowers

  • Fruit or veggie scraps or peels

  • Mushrooms

  • Mosses, pinecones or tree barks (only gather those that have naturally fallen from the tree to the forest floor.)

I'm sure there are plenty of other fun things to use so try and experiment!

The actual "making of the inks" process is super easy. You only need a few supplies and it doesn't take much time at all!

Elderberries (Sambucus nigra) make a brownish - red ink.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) makes a very subtle and translucent yellow ink.

Making Your Inks

What you'll need:

  • A double boiler set up or bain marie. I use a heat proof glass Pyrex measuring cup and set it on top of a canning jar ring inside of a large pot. (It doesn't have to be pretty!)

  • Your choice of plant material to infuse into your inks

  • Distilled water

  • A funnel

  • Coffee Filters

  • Gum Arabic

  • A piece of paper and paintbrush to test your inks

  • Containers for your inks - I used old essential oil bottles that had been cleaned out. They still smelt of the oil a bit which was actually a nice touch.

I chose Hibiscus because it naturally has such a bright red/maroon color. It made a gorgeous and full red ink.

Butterfly Pea Flowers (Clitoria ternatea) are known for the vibrant blue color they create when infused with water. This ink was also very full bodied.


  1. Set up your double boiler system. Fill your pot about half way with water then put your Pyrex or heatproof container inside.

  2. Gather your dried materials. You'll be warming each plant individually so you can just grab one at a time to keep your space less cluttered.

  3. Add your dried materials to the Pyrex. Depending on how much ink you plan on making your water amount will differ. The standard rule is a ratio of 1:2 - plant material to water. You might want to add more for a heavier pigmented ink but you can also do this as it is warming up.

  4. Add your water.

  5. Let the plants and water warm up in the Pyrex. * The water in your BIG pot should be hot enough to steam but not hot enough to boil. *

  6. As its heating up and the plants are infusing start to test your ink! If the color is too light or not pigmented enough, allow it to heat up and continue infusing for longer. Keep testing until its a color you are happy with.

  7. Place your coffee filter in your funnel and carefully pour the infusion through to strain. I like to give the filter a squeeze at the end just to get all of the color out.

  8. Once strained add your gum arabic - I eyeballed this (honestly) and just sprinkled and stirred until I found a consistency that I liked. I found that you had to stir quite a bit and smush the gum a bit if it doesn't soak in right away. Test your ink and once you're satisfied with the color your ink is all finished! See? So quick and easy!

  9. Pour your inks into their final containers and label them!

It's a bit messy but that's half the fun!


  • Start small - to avoid wasting any of your plant material start by making small amounts and seeing which colors you like the most and which you'll actually use the most.

  • Keep your inks in the refrigerator to increase their shelf life. Once they start to smell off, time to make some more!

  • Place a clove in each jar of ink to help preserve them.

  • Use vibrant plants for vibrant inks.

  • Make these inks as gifts for your art loving friends or paint them a picture using your inks!

  • These inks perform differently on certain types of paper. I recommend using a heavier watercolor paper for them to really shine.

This was such a fun project and could easily be done with kids or friends. You can make the inks and immediately start painting with them so it could be an all day activity. There's truly so many plants you could use and so many different colors you could end up with! Please share photos of your inks with me if you decide to make some. I would love to see what you come up with! Happy making! ♡

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