Rubia Tinctorum- also called Turkey Red
The roots of this ancient plant are rich in red alizarin and are the source of a strong red dye. The uniforms of the British Red Coats were dyed with madder root. It is a perennial plant growing to a height of approximately 100cm. It has slender, jointed stems which are covered with short prickly leaves. The flowers are small green/yellow and bell shaped. In the late autumn the seeds turn black and dry out to resemble black peppercorns. Madder can be propagated from seed, root and shoot divisions.
If growing from seed sow in individual pots several weeks before the last frost. Keep evenly moist as over watering can cause the seed to rot before it has time to germinate – one of the main reasons why some people find it difficult to grow from seed. Transplant out when all chance of frost has passed about 12 inches apart.
The plants spread by underground runners and can take over so it it best to grow madder in designated beds. It is a climbing plant which will benefit from a trellis.
It takes between 3 – 4 years before the roots are ready to harvest for dyeing.
In winter the madder plants will die back and look lifeless but will emerge again in the springtime. An alkaline soil will produce a better red dye therefore if required a handful of lime applied in the winter will be of benefit.
Madder 2g (approx 50 seeds) £3.00