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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Great Buckeye Experiment

About a year ago, I posted a query to the Natural Dye group on Yahoo, asking if anybody had ever tried extracting dye from the nuts of the California Buckeye tree. Nobody answered, so I decided this week I should just go ahead and do an experiment.

There are a few Buckeye trees on Mt. Hamilton Road, near where I live in the hills above the east side of San Jose, California. According to the Sunset Garden Book (a bible in this house) the California Buckeye is aesculus californica, a variant of the horsechestnut tree. The chestnuts (fagaceae) that I remember from my childhood in Montana had a spiny outer hull, and an inner shell of shiny reddish brown . The California Buckeye has a smooth green outer hull (that turns greyish tan later in the Fall) but the same shiny reddish brown inner shell.

Today, I picked a dozen or so nuts off a convenient tree (meaning I could find a place to park my van completely off the pavement a short distance away from the tree, which is tricky on Mt. Hamilton Road, a narrow winding road that snakes up the side of a range of mountains).

Using a cleaver, I roughly chopped the nuts and separated the contents into 3 jars: one containing (from left) the nut meat, what would have become the shiny reddish brown shell, and the still-green outer hull. It's the latter two I have the highest hopes for. I didn't really need a cleaver, because the nuts were still pretty soft; however, we use the normal kitchen knives for food, but almost never the cleaver. I'm hoping I can clean it thoroughly enough that it'll be safe for food use in the future.



The jars were then filled with equal parts of denatured alcohol and water, and set out in the garage to soak and consider their sins for however long it takes for some color to emerge.

What I'm left with is an indescribably bitter, astringent residue that soaked into my hands (stupid Sandra didn't wear gloves). The outer hulls left no stains like walnut would, but I can't eat anything without using a knife and fork, because if I try to eat from my fingers, the taste is overpowering, even after several washings with harsh soap and scrubbing with a brush and rubbing on the stainless sink, which will conquer garlic fingers, but not this!

At worst, I'll get a liquid that makes a great tannin mordant for cellulose. At best, there might be some color similar to the chestnut extract from Earthues, although admittedly the extract is from true chestnut, the fagaceae family. I'll report back if anything interesting happens.

2 comments:

bibliotecaria said...

Are the nuts still unripe? I was thinking maybe the outer hull might have a different effect once the nuts are ripe and drop from the tree. Admittedly, they won't be in the outer hulls at the time (at least I think they wouldn't), but maybe they would have developed some color? Who knows? I haven't even started dyeing yet, though I've started dreaming about it.

neki desu said...

Sandra,
i-ve been testing kakishibu, persimmon tannin lately.Straight up in different dilutions gives nice beiges, mordanted even prettier colors.here-s the link to the post
http://amovablefeast.blogspot.com
/2007/09/kakishubuzome-endavors.html#links

sorry for the funky typos blogger doesn-t like Japanese keyboards which i-ve just installed
neki desu