Gall Ink

Oak galls are irregular growths on a leaf or twig, caused by an insect larva, usually a wasp, inside the gall. Galls typically are ball-shaped, and may be small and pea like, or they may be rather large, up to two inches in diameter. The larva secretes enzymes that interfere with plant growth, and cause the oak to form the galls, which both protect the larva and feed it. Many species of oaks and many species of wasps are involved. Long ago it was discovered that processed oak galls made an excellent ink. Iron sulphates were added to tannic acid from the galls, mixed and filtered, and had a binder added (the binder is what glues the ink pigment to the page). Called “iron gall ink,” it was for many centuries the main ink used in Europe and other areas. The ink tends to darken with age. Iron gall ink was used into the 1900s. A problem is that the ink is acidic and over time can damage or destroy the material it was written on. Many old documents are deteriorating because of the ink.

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