Last year I wrote about the medicinal side of Black Walnut. This majestic tree is one of my favorite plants to work with for his versatility. Not only does he have superb medicinal uses but he also offers a variety of craft uses as well.
This is a huge plus in my book, especially when it comes to teaching kids about herbs. Teaching herbalism works best when you have a balance of medicinal and craft activities to break up the educational portion with fun segments that help to reinforce the use of the herb being taught.
Black Walnut is the latest herb posted to Herb Club, our membership website that offers step-by-step guides and lessons for kids and their parents, making teaching herbalism fun and easy. For more information and to join, click here.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways kids can enjoy working with Black Walnut as they get to know his medicinal side.
Dyed Paper Craft
This is a fun project that I’ve done in the past with leftover coffee and tea. If you’ve made Black Walnut dye to dye your fabric with, you can use the leftover dye bath to dye some paper in it.
Otherwise, add 3-4 Black Walnut hulls into a stainless steel or cast iron pot and add enough water to cover them. Turn on the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes up to an hour.
Let the mixture cool then pour into a 9 x 13 baking dish.
You can prepare your paper by wadding it up then smoothing it back out – this will add texture and “age” the paper more. You can omit this step if you do not want the extra lines.
Dip your paper into the baking dish. You can add several sheets, one at a time. Let them sit for 5-10 minutes then carefully pull them out. I find scrunching them to be the easiest way to remove them without tearing.
Set them in another bowl and take them outside. Place them on a log or other surface to dry. Be careful as they will often blow off as they dry!
Once they are dry, they are ready to be used. They are great to use with your Black Walnut Ink.
Black Walnut Ink
Black Walnut ink is a fun way to utilize Black Walnut’s rich pigmented color. Walnuts have been used since the Middle Ages to make ink. Their color is dark and won’t fade over time. Be careful as it will stain your skin! Ancient use for the Romani people was to stain the hands of criminals in their communities. The ink would stain the hand for a long time.
For this craft, gather together the following items:
12 black Walnuts (should be greenish-black in color)
Cast iron dutch oven
1 tablespoon rubbing alcohol (to preserve the ink)
Wear your rubber gloves when handling the walnuts or you will be stained for several days!
Use a knife to cut open the Walnuts, scraping out as much black goo as possible. You may need an older person’s help with this step. Be careful what you cut your walnuts on as they will stain anything they touch.
Place the Walnuts in the cast iron dutch oven and cover with water. Simmer for 6-8 hours on low. Turn off the heat and let steep another 16 hours. It can steep longer if needed before you can continue with the next step.
Place the jar in your kitchen sink and strain off the mixture through the sieve (line with pantyhose) into the jar. Compost the walnuts and return the liquid to the dutch oven. Simmer again until the liquid is reduced by half. Remove from the stove and pour back into the jar.
Add the alcohol. Stir well to mix and store in the jar.
The ink is ready to use. You can use a quill, calligraphy pen or paint brush to apply it to paper for writing or painting. It can also be used on wood as a stain.
Note: If you don’t have a cast iron dutch oven, you can use a stainless steel pot. The cast iron gives the ink a darker shade but the same effect can be achieved by adding some rusty nails to the pot. If you don’t have rusty nails either, just follow the recipe. The ink will still work, it will just be more brown in color.
Painting and Writing with Black Walnut Ink
Once you’ve created your Black Walnut Ink, it’s time to get creative! For $10-20 you can purchase some fun dip pens – Harry Potter fans might enjoy a feather quill style pen. There are also beautiful glass dip pens or simple wooden dip pens. You could even cut the tip of a turkey feather to make a quill.
This is a great way to practice handwriting! Kids love to pretend they are characters from a book or movie and using dip pens with a feather and homemade ink gives a nice touch for acting out pirate or wizard adventures! As a bonus, they can use the Walnut dyed paper for an authentic touch.
Black Walnut Ink can also be used as a paint. After they’ve drawn Black Walnut, they can have fun painting their drawing using the ink to color it.
Black Walnut Ink is fairly colorfast and won’t fade as some other natural inks might. The ink itself can be stored for several years.
Dyeing Fabric with Black Walnut
Black Walnut is one of my favorite dye plants! The range of browns that it gives warms my little heart to no end. Brown is one of my favorite colors, there is such a vast palette in the brown family alone that I never get bored with using it as a dye color.
Black Walnut dye is a great plant to use with kids as it is super simple. You can fill a jar with the hulls, add water, and let it sit in the sun for a week then strain off, add your fabric and let it sit for another week and get fabulous results.
A quicker approach is to add 30-40 hulls to a stainless steel stock pot, fill it with water, then simmer on the stove top for about an hour. After the hour is up, turn off the heat and let it sit overnight.
The next day, strain off the hulls and reheat the dye bath. While it is heating, wet all your fabrics and wring them out. Place them in the dye pot, simmer for about an hour stirring the pot often, then turn off and let sit over night again.
Pull out the fabric, rinse in cool water then hang to dry.
Viola! No mordants needed.
Walnut Stamped Wrapping Paper
This is a fun way to create unique wrapping paper! You will need kraft paper (I save all the paper I get in packages for this activity). You’ll also need a stamp pad and a few Black Walnut shells that have already been cracked open. Look for ones that opened smoothly, providing an interesting surface to use for stamping.
Press the shell onto the stamp pad, then press it on the paper. I find it easier to stamp if I put my hand under the paper so I can push up on the paper as I push down with the shell. Repeat this over the paper as much as desired. Let your kids use their imagination to create a pattern or leave it wild and random.
Once you are finished stamping the paper, let the ink dry then it’s ready to use!
Black Walnut Buttons
Bigger kids might enjoy making some Black Walnut buttons. This is also a great project to use in conjunction with your dyed fabrics. If you’re using raw fabric, it can be sewn into a garment and the buttons can be added for utility or decoration. If you’re dyeing an existing piece of clothing, the existing buttons can be replaced with the wooden buttons, or wooden buttons can be added as decoration.
You’ll need a few tools for this project:
Branches from a Black walnut tree, the diameter you want your buttons to be
Sand paper (fine)
Hand brace drill w/thin bit
Begin by sawing off discs from the branch, about 1/4” thick. Place the branch in a vice to hold it steady.
Sand each button until they are smooth on both sides. You may wish to sand off the bark while you are doing this step or you can choose to leave the bark on.
Stack the buttons together and wrap around the edge with duct tape. Place the stack in the vice and carefully tighten in place. Using the hand brace drill and small drill bit, drill 2 holes in each button.
Remove the buttons from the vice and tape.
Add a few drops of olive oil to each button and gently rub the oil onto both sides of each button with your fingers. Your buttons are now ready to use!
As you can see, Black Walnut offers a lot of fun craft ideas for kids! I hope this article inspires you and your kids to have a blast while learning about Black Walnut.
And don’t forget, if you want more curriculum ideas, video lessons, and access to a growing community of like-minded parents and kids, you can join Herb Club!
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