Madder (Rubia tinctorum)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Rubia tinctorum

A very good quality red dye is obtained from the roots. Some reports say that 2 year old roots are used in the spring and autumn[61, 200, 238] whilst others say that 3 year old roots are used[169, 171]. The roots can be dried for later use[169]. The dye can also be extracted from the leaves[169]. This dye is also used medicinally[200].

The leaves and stem are prickly, the whorls of leaves having spines along the midrib on the underside[4]. This feature enables them to be used for polishing metalwork[4, 148].

  • Medicinal Use

    The root is aperient, astringent, cholagogue, diuretic and emmenagogue[4, 7, 21]. It is taken internally in the treatment of kidney and bladder stones[238]. The root is seldom used in herbal medicine but is said to be effective in the treatment of amenorrhoea, dropsy and jaundice[4]. The roots are harvested in the autumn from plants that are at least 3 years old. They are peeled and then dried[238].

    When taken internally the root imparts a red colour to the milk, urine and bones, especially the bones of young animals, and it is used in osteopathic investigations[4, 200].

  • Edible Use

    None known

  • Cautionary Notes

    None known

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Stored seed can be very slow to germinate[200]. Prick out the seedlings when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in light shade in the greenhouse for the first year. Plant them out into their permanent positions in early summer. Division in spring or at any time in the growing season if the divisions are kept well watered until established[200]. Larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found it best to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in a lightly shaded position in a cold frame, planting them out once they are well established in the summer.
Prefers a light sandy soil in full sun[14]. Plants grown in fertile well-limed soils produce more pigment in the root[169]. This plant was at one time widely cultivated for the red dye obtained from its roots, this dye is now manufactured chemically[200]. However, it is still cultivated in Europe as a medicinal dye plant. The plant produces many side roots that can travel just under the surface of the soil for some distance before sending up new shoots[4]. This species is closely related to R. peregrina[4].
Europe – Mediterranean. Naturalized in Britain[17].

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.