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Common Madder

Rubia tinctorum

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Rubiaceae (Bedstraw)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
2 metres tall
Gardens, hedgerows, walls.

Yellow, 5 petals
Flowers appear in dense clusters. They are pale yellow, measuring approximately 4mm across.
The fruit is a black, globular berry. About 5mm in diameter. The seeds ripen in September.
An evergreen climber with leaves appearing in whorls of 4 to 7 along the stem. They are up to 10cm (4 inches) long and 3cm wide. The stems are square in cross-section.
Other Names:
Dyer's Madder, Rose Madder.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Rubia tinctorum, also known as madder or dyer's madder, is a perennial herbaceous plant that is native to Europe and Asia. It is known for its red root, which is used to produce a red dye. The plant has green leaves and small, inconspicuous flowers that bloom in the summer. The roots of the plant are used to produce a dye that has been used for thousands of years to color textiles, particularly in ancient Greece and Rome. The dye is also used in traditional medicine as a remedy for various ailments. The plant prefers well-drained soil and full sun or partial shade and it is hardy in zones 4-8. It can be propagated from seed, cuttings, or divisions.


Common madder (Rubia tinctorum) is a herbaceous plant that has been used for centuries as a natural dye and medicinal plant. It is a member of the Rubiaceae family and is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa.

The plant is a climbing perennial that can grow up to two meters tall. It has long, thin stems with small, green leaves that are arranged in a whorl around the stem. The plant produces small, white or green flowers that are arranged in clusters, which later turn into small, red berries.

Historically, common madder was one of the most important sources of red dye. The roots of the plant contain a red pigment called alizarin, which has been used as a dye since ancient times. The dye was particularly prized in Europe during the Middle Ages, where it was used to color the robes of kings and cardinals.

Today, synthetic dyes have largely replaced natural dyes, but common madder is still cultivated for use in traditional crafts and art. The dye is extracted from the roots of the plant by boiling them in water, which produces a red liquid that can be used to color fabrics, wool, and other materials.

Aside from its use as a dye, common madder also has medicinal properties. The plant has been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat a variety of ailments, including menstrual disorders, skin diseases, and digestive problems. The roots of the plant contain compounds that have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties.

Recent studies have also shown that common madder may have potential as a treatment for cancer. The plant contains several compounds that have been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in vitro, including alizarin and rubiadin. Further research is needed to determine the potential of these compounds as anticancer agents in humans.

In addition to its medicinal properties, common madder is also used as a food source for livestock. The leaves and stems of the plant are high in protein and are often fed to animals, particularly in parts of Europe and Asia.

Despite its many uses, common madder is not widely cultivated today. The plant is relatively slow-growing and requires a long growing season to produce a viable crop. Additionally, the availability of cheap synthetic dyes has made natural dyes less economically viable. However, the plant remains an important part of traditional crafts and medicine, and its historical significance as a source of red dye cannot be overstated.

Facts about Common Madder

Common madder is a fascinating plant that has played an important role in human history for centuries. Here are some more interesting facts about this plant:

  • The name "madder" comes from the Old English word "maedere," which means "a dye plant."
  • The use of madder as a dye dates back to ancient times. In fact, traces of madder dye have been found on Egyptian mummies that are over 3,000 years old.
  • Madder was so valuable as a dye in medieval Europe that it was sometimes used as a form of currency. For example, it was used to pay rent or to settle debts.
  • The dye produced from common madder is not fast, meaning it will fade over time. To create a more permanent red color, a mordant (a chemical that helps fix the dye to the fabric) is needed. In ancient times, alum and cream of tartar were commonly used as mordants.
  • Common madder is not the only species of Rubia that is used as a dye plant. Other species, such as Rubia cordifolia and Rubia peregrina, are also used for their red pigments.
  • In addition to its use as a dye and medicine, common madder has also been used for other purposes throughout history. For example, the roots of the plant were sometimes chewed to freshen breath or to combat toothaches.
  • Common madder is a host plant for the larvae of several butterfly species, including the scarce swallowtail and the grizzled skipper.
  • The cultivation of common madder declined in the 19th century with the introduction of synthetic dyes. However, interest in natural dyes has increased in recent years, leading to a resurgence in madder cultivation in some parts of the world.
  • In addition to its red dye, common madder can also produce a yellow pigment from its roots, which is less commonly used than the red pigment.
  • In some parts of the world, common madder is considered an invasive species because it can spread quickly and outcompete native plants. However, in other areas, it is cultivated as a crop or used as a medicinal plant.

Continuation of the blog

Despite the decline in its cultivation, common madder remains an important plant for those interested in natural dyes and traditional medicine. The use of natural dyes has been gaining popularity in recent years, as people become more aware of the environmental and health impacts of synthetic dyes.

One of the advantages of using natural dyes like madder is that they are often biodegradable and do not contribute to pollution in the same way that synthetic dyes do. Additionally, natural dyes can produce a range of colors that are often difficult to achieve with synthetic dyes.

Common madder is also used in traditional medicine for a variety of ailments. The plant has been used to treat menstrual disorders, skin diseases, and digestive problems, among other things. While more research is needed to fully understand its medicinal properties, common madder shows promise as a source of new drugs and treatments.

In addition to its practical uses, common madder also has cultural and historical significance. The use of madder as a dye has played a role in the economies and societies of many cultures throughout history. For example, in medieval Europe, the production and trade of madder was an important source of income for many people.

The historical significance of common madder is also reflected in its use in art. Many traditional textiles and artworks have been created using madder dye, and the plant continues to inspire artists today.

In conclusion, common madder is a fascinating plant with a long history of use in human culture. While its use as a dye has declined in recent centuries, it remains an important plant for those interested in natural dyes and traditional medicine. Its historical significance and cultural importance make it a valuable plant for people interested in preserving traditional crafts and knowledge.