Herbal Alphabet: Dyer’s Madder (Rubia tinctorum)
As the name suggests, this herb is a natural red dye – the oldest and most commonly used one in Europe, the Middle East and India.
This plant was originally grown in Syria, Palestine and Egypt, but later found its way to all corners of the globe. Before synthetic dyes were invented, there was no other natural dye to match it in terms of quality.
Since this plant thrives in a warm cli- mate, it’s native to Asia and the Med- iterranean. Otherwise, it’s a cosmo- politan plant distributed throughout most parts of the world in appropriate habitats, which are neglected grounds, hedgerows and rubble sites.
Madder is a perennial plant growing up to 1.5 m in height. Its rhizome is up to 1 cm thick, fleshy, richly branched and red in color – the part of the plant that’s used for dyes. The stem is straight or climbing, and richly branched out. It has four edges with tiny hooks on them that are used for climbing. The leaves are approximately 8 cm long and 3 cm wide, lanceolate and evergreen, produced in whorls around the central stem. They’re light green in color with pinnate venation. The branches are also four-edged and divide in a trident-like shape. On their ends are tiny, yellow to green-yellow flowers growing up to 4 mm with five, star-shaped, white petals. The flowers are hermaphrodite.
GROWING THE PLANT
Madder is suitable for light (sandy), medium (loamy) or calcareous soil. It’s grown mainly for its root and stem which are the most useful parts. It’s worth noting, noting that these parts become available to us only in the third year of growing the plant, however.
If you decide to plant madder, then try to find some well-drained soil in a sunny spot. Suitable pH is acidic, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It should be planted in fall (October) or in spring (April); the seed sprouts in about three weeks. Overall, it’s a great disinfectant even when applied externally to badly heal- ing wounds. It’s especially effective on venous ulcers.
But beware – higher doses of madder can irritate the stomach. The herb should not be used during pregnancy or when breastfeeding. As always, consult your physician before using the herb.