A ‘Galling’ Experience

Whilst walking the dog this morning, I was looking at how the leaves were alrteady changing colour and falling to the ground. I happened to look at a small oak and, as well as the leaves, noted something else – some round brown woody looking things on some of the branches. They were oak galls and I must admit at first I just felt pleased to have sen and identified them and walked on. But as I walked, a little memory kept nagging at me – that oak galls were once used to make ink.

An oak gall – a deformation, mainly found on oaks which is created by the gall wasp (Cynipoidera) when it lays its eggs on the tree. The larve develop inside the gall and feed off it, eventually piercing a hole through its shell to escape.

So in the end I doubled back on myself and went back to the tree. I managed to collect four galls and returned home with my trasures. I then went online to look up medieval ink recipes thinking that maybe all I had to do was boil them up or something. Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that – I also need some iron sulphate and gum arabic for the most basic form of ink. However, it has stirred the ambition in me to get the extra ingredients (and some more oak galls) and try to make some – so watch this space in future for the results. Until then I shall leave you with this image from the National Archives of a manuscript containing an ancient recipe for ink (not one I shall be following I am quick to add).

Some words are no longer easily readable and the suggested transcription for those words is in parentheses ().

To make ink. Take (oil)
and copperas and or vitriol (quarter)
and gum of (clyche) a quarter
or half quarter and a half
quarter of gall more and
break the gall a 2 or a 3
and put them together every
the one in a pot and stir it
often and within
2 weeks after you (mol)
write the (wyr)
and if you have a quarter of
clvyche take a quarter of
water if half a quarter
of cliyche then take half
a quarter of water.


About Jules Frusher

With an MA in Creative and Critical Writing, I am passionate about the written word. The other great loves of my life are all things Medieval (especially Hugh le Despenser the Younger) and animal behaviour (especially canids and corvids). Give me a castle in the wilderness (with Broadband!) and I'll be happy!
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