Iron gall ink

In the middle of June I decided to try and make iron gall ink. I was given oak gall apples from Aleppo some years ago from Mistress Lia de Thornegge. They have been in a drawer of my desk far to long. I started to google recipes since I could not find any in the books I have at home. I found a lot of different recipes that all was quite simular and from historical recipes. Most iron gall inks is made mby water and/or wine, oak gall apples, iron vitrol and gum arabic. I decided to try to make ink after a recipe that I found on this blogpost.

E.H Kern that have written the post says “At the British Library, there are several manuscripts with recipes for making iron-gall ink. This particular recipe is from the thirteenth century and has been translated from the medieval French.”.

I decided to try the recipe but since I did not have half a pound of gall apples I recalculated the recipe. To see the recipe with it original amounts, please visit the blog post linked above!

Make iron gall ink

After recalculating the recipe I did my ink and ended up with a good black ink. It was much easier then I expected and besides waiting for the reducing of the fluid and letting the ink sit for two days it did not take long time!

If you want to try it yourself you need the following:

Two glass jars
Safety gloves
Disposable cups (for measuring gum arabic and iron vitrol)
Mortar and pestle
Kitchen scale

7 dl rain water (or distilled water)
1 dl red wine
45 g Oak gall apples
23 g Iron vitrol
17 g powdered gum arabic

Start with crushing the oak galls in a mortal and pestel until you have powdered them. If you want to you can use a sieve to separate the smaller pieces into a jar so that you don´t need to work the already fine particles more then necessary.

When you have a fine powder, mix it in a casserole together with the rain water and boil this on your stove until the fluid is reduced by half. The water now should have changed colour and look like something between tea and coffee. While the water reduces you should measure up iron vitrol into a disposable cup. You could use a cup or glass but please note that you should not use it for drinking again. I also used a disposable cup to measure the gum arabic in. Gum arabic is used in different kinds of cooking and you can use your ordinary kitchen tools for it.

Now add gum arabic to the mixture and let it boil until it is reduced by half again. Filter the fluid through coffee filter and pour the liguid into a glass jar. Your water/oak gall fluid should now be about 1,5 dl. While reducing the water the second time it is time to varm up the wine, I choose to use red wine because I had a opened bag in box that had been open for to long. I don´t know if they used red wine or white but judging from the result red wine works very good!

When the wine is warm pour it into a glass jar (not the same one as you have your water/oak gall solution in!) and then add the iron vitrol. It looks like I poured the iron vitrol into the casserole on my picture but I did not. Instead I used an old glass bottle with a lid so that I could shake the solution until the vitrol had disolved. If you live in Sweden you can by 25kg of iron vitrol on Granngården. In case you have a hard time finding smaller amounts and are a Nordmarker and don´t want to buy 25 kilos please tell me since I happen to have a lot and could sell you smaller amounts for a cheap price…


Now start to slowly pour your wine/iron vitrol solution into the water/oak galls solution while stirring. Leave your ink to rest for two days and then stir your ink before using it or pouring into smaller bottles. Now your ink is done!

If you want to learn a bit more about the chemical reaction between tannic acid and iron sulfate that produces the black pigment you can find a good blog post at the iron gall ink website.




  1. Very nice images! Thanks for sharing them. The original mss source for your recipe, if you’re interested, is British Library, MS Harley 3915, f. 148 v. That blog post you cite got it from another web resource, Yale’s Travelling Scriptorium project.

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