This is a blog post on growing and harvesting madder root. Madder is an old ancient natural dye. it is also known with its Latin name as Rubia tinctorum. The color mainly comes from its root. I have recently looked into natural dyeing in more detail like using it as a fugitive dye. Fugitive simply means the dye would not fade or wash out easily. Not many natural dyes fall into the category notably dye that comes from the food source. Madder is one of the fugitive dyes. For any natural dyes have a look at an article from Maiwa about fugitive natural dyes. It is a good guide to start with and it’s free to download. Otherwise, it will come with experience and experiments. I suspect there are more natural dyes that can be added to that list.
Growing and harvesting madder
To grow madder one will need to grow from seed or root. I have only tried from the root. However, I did look into growing from seed before and found it is not that reliable or guarantee results. It also took me a while to get hold of madder root at a reasonable price. I found paying for £12 for some root that will grow like weeds, later on, isn’t cheap. Finally, I source it while I was in Italy online from Azienda Agricola Erika caldera. I bought it in Italy and got it delivered to an Italian address. It cost about 5 euros a plant with other dye plants I bought as well.
A small plant is about year 1-2 old compared to a plant grown from seed. Once one got hold of the fresh roots you are good to go. As it is still a young plant I growing it in raised bed. Many dyers that grow their own madder said to give it a spot to grow it as they can take over the garden once established. As the shoots can appear anywhere. However it is not a difficult plant to get rid off.
Expanding more crops while harvesting roots
Some dyers recommend to buy a few plants. Well it’s ok if it’s cheap not when it cost £12/ plant. As one can start dyeing with some of the plants and leave the rest to grow. this so that you will have roots to dye and roots to grow to replenish stock. It is a rotational basis that will ensure that the correct age of roots are use. Too young the colour is not strong. too old well too strong perhaps? Anyway I am only an experimental newbie dyer/ printer perhaps I will understand more when I need to use madder a lot.
The roots are ready to harvest when it is two years old but the older the roots the deeper the color. Also, the madder is growing conditions will affect the color it produces.
It will grow outdoors in the UK all year round. The leaves will die back then will regrow again come spring. The plant is a creeper means to obtain more roots simply just tuck the leafy stems onto the soil so that it will root out more roots.
Thank you for reading and dropping by. Do have a look at my other blog post on growing and harvesting dye plant-like woad.