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Common Madder (Rubia tinctorum)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Gentianales
Family: Rubiaceae
Subfamily: Rubioideae
Tribe: Rubieae
Genus: Rubia

See text.

Rubia is a genus of the madder family Rubiaceae, which contains about 60 species of perennial scrambling or climbing herbs and sub-shrubs native to the Old World, Africa, temperate Asia and America. The genus and its best known species are also known as Madder, Rubia tinctorum (Common Madder), Rubia peregrina (Wild Madder), and Rubia cordifolia (Indian Madder).[citation needed]

The Common Madder can grow to 1.5 m in height. The evergreen leaves are 5-10 cm long and 2-3 cm broad, produced in whorls of 4-7 starlike around the central stem. It climbs with tiny hooks at the leaves and stems. The flowers are small (3-5 mm across), with five pale yellow petals, in dense racemes, and appear from June to August, followed by small (4-6 mm diameter) red to black berries. The roots can be over a metre long, up to 12 mm thick and the source of a red dye known as rose madder. It prefers loamy soils with a constant level of moisture. Madders are used as food plants for the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Hummingbird hawk moth.



  • Rubia akane
  • Rubia alaica Pachom.
  • Rubia angustifolia L.
  • Rubia chinensis Regel & Maack
  • Rubia chitralensis Ehrend.
  • Rubia cordata Thunb
  • Rubia cordifolia L. : Indian Madder
  • Rubia cretacea Pojark.
  • Rubia deserticola Pojark.
  • Rubia dolichophylla Schrenk
  • Rubia florida Boiss.
  • Rubia fruticosa
  • Rubia jesoensis (Miq.) Miyabe & Miyake
  • Rubia komarovii Pojark.
  • Rubia krascheninnikovii Pojark.
  • Rubia laevissima Tscherneva
  • Rubia laxiflora Gontsch.
  • Rubia pavlovii Bajtenov & Myrz.
  • Rubia peregrina L. : Wild Madder
  • Rubia rechingeri Ehrend.
  • Rubia regelii Pojark.
  • Rubia rezniczenkoana Litv.
  • Rubia rigidifolia Pojark.
  • Rubia schugnanica B.Fedtsch. ex Pojark.
  • Rubia sikkimensis Kurz
  • Rubia syrticola Miq.
  • Rubia tatarica (Trevir.) F.Schmidt
  • Rubia tibetica Hook.f.
  • Rubia tinctorum L. : Common Madder
  • Rubia transcaucasica Grossh.
  • Rubia yunnanensis (Franch. ex Diels) Diels

Poultice of Rubia ( Rinias in Kurdish) and yolk of eggs is used to treat of bone fraction in Traditional Kurdish Medicine in Iran (Ref. Kurdish Ethnopharmacology Group; Mohammad Amirian).


It has been used since ancient times as a vegetable red dye for leather, wool, cotton and silk. For dye production, the roots are harvested in the first year. The outer brown layer gives the common variety of the dye, the lower yellow layer the refined variety. The dye is fixed to the cloth with help of a mordant, most commonly alum. Madder can be fermented for dyeing as well (Fleurs de garance). In France, the remains were used to produce a spirit as well.

The roots contain the acid ruberthyrin. By drying, fermenting or a treatment with acids, this is changed to sugar, alizarin and purpurin. Purpurin is normally not coloured, but is red when dissolved in alcalic solutions. Mixed with clay and treated with alum and ammonia, it gives a brilliant red colourant (madder lake).

Common Madder (Rubia tinctorum), from Thomé, Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885.

The pulverised roots can be dissolved in sulfuric acid, which leaves a dye called garance (the French name for madder) after drying. Another method of increasing the yield consisted of dissolving the roots in sulfuric acid after they had been used for dyeing. This produces a dye called garanceux. By treating the pulverized roots with alcohol, colorin was produced. It contained 40-50 times the amount of alizarin of the roots.

The chemical name for the pigment is alizarin, of the anthraquinone-group. In 1869, the German chemists Graebe and Liebermann synthesised artificial alizarin, which was produced industrially from 1871 onwards, which effectively put an end to the cultivation of madder. In the 20th century, madder was only grown in some areas of France.


Early evidence of dyeing comes from India where a piece of cotton dyed with madder has been recovered from the archaeological site at Mohenjo-daro (3rd millennium BCE).[1] In Sanskrit, this plant is known by the name Manjishtha. It was used by hermits to dye their clothes saffron. Dioscorides and Pliny the Elder (De Re Natura) mention the plant (Rubia passiva). In Viking age levels of York, remains of both woad and madder have been excavated. The oldest European textiles dyed with madder come from the grave of the Merovingian queen Arnegundis in St. Denis near Paris (between 565 and 570 AD). In the "Capitulare de villis" of Charlemagne, madder is mentioned as "warentiam". The herbal of Hildegard of Bingen mentions the plant as well. The red coats of the British Redcoats were dyed with madder.

According to Culpeper's herbal, the plant is ruled by Mars and has an opening quality, and will bind and strengthen afterwards. It was used in the treatment of jaundice, obstruction of the spleen, melancholy, palsy, haemorrhoids, sciatica, and of bruises. The root should be boiled in wine, and sugar or honey added. The seed of madder, drunk with vinegar and honey is used for the swelling of the spleen. Leaves and stems are used when the monthly female menstrual bleeding is late. Leaves and roots are squashed and put on freckles and other discolorations of the skin.


  • R. Chenciner, Madder red: a history of luxury and trade (Richmond 2000).


  1. ^ Bhardwaj, H.C. & Jain, K.K., "Indian Dyes and Industry During 18th-19th Century", Indian Journal of History of Science 17 (11): 70-81, New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MADDER, or Dyers' Madder, the root of Rubia tinctorum and perhaps also of R. peregrina, both European, R. cordifolia, a native of the hilly districts of India and of north-east Asia and Java, supplying the Indian madder or manjit. Rubia is a genus of about thirty-five species of the tribe Galieae of the order Rubiaceae, and much resembles the familiar Galiums, e.g. lady's bedstraw (G. verum) and the cleavers (G. aparine) of English hedges, having similarly whorled leaves, but the parts of the flowers are in fives and not fours, while the fruit is somewhat fleshy. The only British species is R. peregrina, which is found in Wales, the south and west of England, and in east and south Ireland. The use of madder appears to have been known from the earliest times, as cloth dyed with it has been found on the Egyptian mummies. It was the EpEvOEbavov used for dyeing the cloaks of the Libyan women in the days of Herodotus (Herod. iv. 189). It is the EpvOpobavov of Dioscorides, who speaks of its cultivation in Caria (iii. 160), and of Hippocrates (De morb. mul. i.), and the Rubia of Pliny (xix. 17). R. tinctorum, a native of western Europe, &c., has been extensively cultivated in south Europe, France, where it is called garance, and Holland, and to a small extent in the United States. Large quantities have been imported into England from Smyrna, Trieste, Leghorn, &c. The cultivation, however, decreased after alizarin, the red colouring principle of madder, was made artificially. Madder was employed medicinally by the ancients and in the middle ages. Gerard, in 1 597, speaks of it as having been cultivated in many gardens in his day, and describes its supposed many virtues (Herball, p.960); but any pharmacological or therapeutic action which madder may possess is unrecognizable. Its most remarkable physiological effect is that of colouring red the bones of animals fed upon it, as also the claws and beaks of birds. This appears to be due to the chemical affinity of phosphate of lime for the colouring matter (Pereira, Mat. med., vol. ii. pt. 2, p. 52). This property has been of much use in enabling physiologists to ascertain the manner in which bones develop, and the functions of the various types of cells found in growing bone. R. chilensis has been used for dyeing red from time immemorial. The chay-root, which furnishes a red dye in Coromandel and other parts of India, is the root-bark of Oldenlandia umbellata, a low-growing plant of the same family as madder.

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