The Orange in Sassafras Root Bark

The color in the sassafras root bark is quite vivid and I’m trying to capture that pigment.

The orange in sassafras root is quite vivid. I'm trying to capture that color in a watercolor paint.

My first attempt wasn’t very successful. I used water to try and extract the orange. I simmered it on low heat, then strained the still very orange bark out.

What little bit I got went into the gum arabic solution and offers a nice sheer kind of yellow. That’s alright, but not exactly what I was after. If you want to read all about my first attempt, I posted about that over at the WildOzark blog. If that link brings you right back here, leave a comment to let me know. I may need to change the url on it if it did.

The next attempt is showing a lot more promise. I extracted into ethanol (180 proof). Yes, the liquor store probably thinks I’m a lush, but I buy this for making my herbal remedies and thought I’d try it on the sassafras root bark, too.

Sassafras root bark is such a nice, rich color!

Much color into solution this time. Now how do I get it out?

A lot more color in this ethanol extract of sassafras root bark. Now hot to get it out?
This is showing a lot more promise. Now I just need to get the color out of the alcohol…

I added some water and the mixture clouded up. That’s a good sign. It means there might be some precipitation happening. Except it wasn’t settling. So I added a little bit of salt, and that made it start releasing lots of tiny bubbles. Progress, but still not much happening.

Experimenting

So I added a little bit of alum dissolved in hot water. That changed it from orange to a sort of rosy red. I could live with that. But still not much settling going on. After a little while I added a little bit of soda dissolved in warm water. Now we’re getting separation and settling.

Now that the layers are starting to separate, I might be making actual progress. It'll be tomorrow before it settles enough to pour off the top layer. Hopefully the top layer will be clear by the morning.
Now that the layers are starting to separate, I might be making actual progress. It’ll be tomorrow before it settles enough to pour off the top layer. Hopefully the top layer will be clear by the morning.

Once this finally finishes settling, I’ll strain off the top liquid and keep the settled bottom portion.

The orange pigment from sassafras root bark filtered out from the liquid portion.
The orange pigment, after filtering out the liquid.

Then I’ll wash it with clean water and see if it will resettle. If it won’t, then I’ll have to figure something else out. If it does, then I’m in business and can get on with the next step.

If it does, then the next step is to let it settle again and wash again. Eventually I’ll want to dry out just the settled solids and use that for making the paint.

Making paint from sassafras root bark

Check back later to see if this made good paint in the end. I’ll work on it some more tomorrow, but it’ll be next week before I’m able to make the actual paint. I have to separate the layers and let the sediment dry first.

In the meantime, if you want to read about the other colors I’ve cataloged so far, here’s the link to the category page: https://www.paleopaints.com/category/colors/

Madison Woods is an author, artist, and Paleo Paint maker living
with her husband in northwest Arkansas far off the beaten path. She uses paint made from rocks, and mostly Ozark pigments to create her paintings.

Contact Info:
Email: Madison@wildozark.com
Instagram: @wildozark
Facebook: @wildozark

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