Herb: Madder

Latin name: Rubia tinctorum

Family: Rubiaceae (Madder Family)

Medicinal use of Madder:

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

Description of the plant:


100 cm
(3 1/4 foot)


Habitat of the herb:

Neglected ground, hedgerows and among rubble.

Other uses of Madder:

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 whilst others say that 3 year old roots are used. The roots can be dried for later use. The dye can also be extracted from the leaves. This dye is also used medicinally. The leaves and stem are prickly, the whorls of leaves having spines along the midrib on the underside. This feature enables them to be used for polishing metalwork.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Stored seed can be very slow to germinate. 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. 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.

Cultivation of Madder:

Neglected ground, hedgerows and among rubble.

Known hazards of Rubia tinctorum:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.