How-to: Black Walnut Dye

How-to: Black Walnut Dye

As we mentioned in a previous post, we found a Black Walnut tree on the farm and harvested the nuts. We prepared the nuts and saved the hulls to make dye and ink. There are a lot of ways to do it by boiling the hulls in water, but we opted for the lazy way, to let them steep in water for a couple months.

Step 1: Hull the walnuts

We cut the hulls off the nuts, saving the nuts to eat. The best way we found was to run a knife around the circumferences at each quarter, wedge the knife in and pop the hull off in sections. We threw all of the hulls into a big Cambro container.

Warning: The hulls stain your hands almost instantly, so wear rubber gloves when doing this.

Step 2: Steep the hulls

The Cambro was full to the top with hulls, and we poured in water. Despite being full it still allowed us to put in a gallon or so of water since the hulls weren’t packed tight. We put a lid on the container and left it to sit for around 6 weeks.

After sitting just a day the hulls will turn deep black and begin to impart color to the water.

Warning: Definitely put a lid on it. If not, there is a high likelihood you are going to get squirrels and rodents crawling into your container and making a complete mess.

Step 3: Pour off the dye

After sitting for a month or two the water should be dark. Pour off the dye into containers, ideally filtering it through some cheesecloth to get all the particles. We put our dye into two large Ball jars. The dye is dark enough to work as a light sepia ink, or to stain clothes a medium-dark tan. If you want darker dye, or to use it as a dark ink, put the dye into a large pot on your stove and boil it down to concentrate it. If you need something lighter, just add water.

Step 4: Dispose of the hulls

The hulls of black walnuts have an anti-germination compound, so DO NOT dispose of them in your compost heap. If you do, it will ruin your compost’s value as a fertilizer as it will effectively prevent anything from growing.