Madder (Rubia tinctorum) – buy seeds here!
Native to the Mediterranean and a member of the coffee family, madder is a hardy perennial grown for its red dye. The roots of this plant have been used for centuries to make a bright, lightfast dye on both protein and cellulose fibers. Second and third year roots give better color, although the older the plant the more intense the dye, so plan your planting accordingly.
How to grow:
Site Selection: Zone 5-9 (although grows fine for me in zone 4b with winter mulch), sandy to loamy soil, neutral to alkaline. Full sun is preferred. Plan for a plant to send out runners, so grow in buried containers or beds. Click here for madder seeds!
Start seeds: Start indoors several weeks before last frost and plant out after all threat of frost has passed.
Harvest: Harvest the roots of 2 to 3 year old plants in the fall after the tops have dyed back, or wait additional years for even more dye potential. Harvesting areas of madder sequentially while replanting in the current beds will provide a constant supply of madder.
Processing: Rinse the roots with cold water, cut into small pieces and allow to dry completely (unless using fresh). Store in a dry, cool place.
Other dye plants: