Make Your Own Berry Ink

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 Arkansas Connections

Just like Civil War soldiers in the rest of the country, Arkansas soldiers had to suffer shortages of important materials and food during large parts of the war. Prices for items that were once affordable went up more than 100% during the course of the war, making daily staples difficult to afford. Meat was especially hard to find. It was so costly that many families simply could not afford it unless they raised the animals themselves.

Even the basics of written communication, paper and ink, were sometimes difficult to obtain. In many letters from the Civil War era, soldiers ask their families to send envelopes and paper, as these items were sometimes impossible to get on the front lines. 

If the soldiers or families could not purchase paper or ink, they were forced to make their own. Making paper was a complicated process that included gathering wood pulp. Making ink was a bit easier, as long as the process started during the right time of year. Berries only ripen from late spring to early fall, so letter writers had to plan ahead.  Many people gathered the fruit of the “Inkberry” or Glabra plant. Although the berries it produces are poisonous, they created a hardy ink that could be kept for a long time under the right conditions. Other berries used to make ink include blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.

Wealthier citizens and soldiers could afford to carry a manufactured “stylus” type pen with them. Others were forced to use feathers from various birds (such as chickens or turkeys) to create pens. If feathers were not available, pens could be made out of wood. 
Picture courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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