You can make simple, non-toxic inks at home with natural ingredients that you have in the kitchen or garden. Leaves, bark, spices and petals can all be used to make inks. None of these colours will be as bright and saturated as store-bought pigments, but they have a soft beauty all their own.
I began foraging for natural pigments from plants last year after accepting that my inspiration stems from the natural beauty of Co. Wicklow. The satisfaction I felt by allowing myself to be creative while making use of sustainable materials is indescribable.
Nature isn’t just a source of artistic inspiration; it is also an incredible source of art supplies. Observing the colours of nature and being in nature is exhilarating! I strongly emphasize upon using materials that are of the earth, are safe to work with and that can safely be returned back into the earth. Understanding the natural colour palette of your region, and creating art with materials that you have made with your own hands and from plants that grow around you, can be incredibly enriching, and connective experience. There is something sublime about walking out onto the land and gathering leaves, harvesting flowers, berries, and digging up muddy roots to extract their colour. Bringing more beauty into the world doesn’t have to be deleterious to our environment or to our own personal growth. Making ink is just one more way to enjoy the beauty and excitement of our natural world.
This journey of exploration and discovery begins with the White Clover. It’s connection to me personally is abundant; it feeds the bees in the summer and reminds me of my childhood watching Bambi.
Common Name: White Clover
Scientific Name: Trifolium repens
Irish Name: Seamair bhán
Family Group: Fabaceae
I gathered white clover blossoms and boiled them to an intense reduction, then immediately applied this potent ink to cotton rag fine art paper, allowing the ink to immerse the natural fibres in the paper. I watched as the fibres and the ink danced and moulded together. I laid out 10 similar sized sheets of paper and applied the same amount of natural clover blossom ink to each sheet and let them air dry. After a few days, I gathered each sheet carefully from my studio in Co. Wicklow and flattened them as I was trained to flatten fine art prints. This resulted in the most beautiful delicately different specimens.
Dissenting minister and Irish botanist, Caleb Threlkeld (1676-1728) laid the foundations for Irish botany in his Synopsis Stirpium Hibernicarum published in 1727 which he described as ‘the first Essay of this kind in the Kingdom of Ireland’. In this work, Threlkeld wrote of Trifolium repens as follows:
“This Plant is worn by the People in their Hats upon the Seventeenth day of March yearly (which is called St Patrick’s Day), it being a current Tradition that by this Three leafed Grass he emblematically set forth to them the Mystery of the Holy Trinity. However that be, when they wet their Seamar-oge, they often commit Excess in Liquor, which is not a right keeping of a Day to the Lord.”
The occasional four-leafed clover is said to bring the finder luck.
I have yet to find a four-leafed clover.
Besides making an excellent forage crop for livestock, its leaves and flowers are a valuable survival food: they are high in proteins and are widespread and abundant. The fresh plants have been used for centuries as additives to salads and other meals consisting of leafy vegetables. They are not easy for humans to digest raw, however, but this is easily fixed by boiling the harvested plants for 5–10 minutes. Native Americans ate some species raw. Dried white clover flowers may also be smoked as a herbal alternative to tobacco
The extensive root system and ground cover capabilities of white clover keep soil from running off, keeping key nutrients in place. White clover is also used to help increase soil health because of its erosion protection and nitrogen fixation.
The plant is considered as antirheumatic, depurative and tonic. The tincture of leaves is an ointment for gout. An infusion made from the plant helps to treat coughs, fevers, colds and leucorrhoea. The flower infusion is used as an eyewash. In Turkish folk medicine, it is used as an expectorant, antiseptic and analgesic properties and treatment for rheumatic aches. Flowers are useful for arthritis, rheumatism as well as antidiarrheal and analgesic activity. The flower heads are used as a blood cleanser, to clean wounds sores, boils and heal eye ailments. A tea is used to treat colds, coughs, fevers and leucorrhea.
A tea made from flowers is used as an eyewash. The Algonkian and Delaware Indians used tea infusion made from dried leaves to treat colds and coughs.
How to Eat
The fresh plants are added to salads and cooked as leafy vegetables. The dried heads of flower and seedpods could be grounded nutritious flour or can be used as a herbal tea. Flour of white clover flour is sprinkled on cooked foods like boiled rice. The leaves are added to soups, salads, sauces etc. The flowers could be added to the salads. The herb tea could be made from dried or fresh flowers. The infusion made from dried leaves is excellent for tea.
Wine is prepared by fermenting sugar, flower heads and wine yeast.
Those allergic to the clover should avoid its use. The one under the medication of blood clots or hypertension should also avoid because it possesses blood thinning substances.
Those having surgery next two weeks should also avoid white clover. One should consult the physician to use clover tea after surgery.