by Daisy on 08/11/2010

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How many of you read the post title and thought:

“Ah, she’s getting into dyeing plants now.”

If you did, you have now officially earned your Wackadoodle Homesteading/Fiber Arts Certification (WHAC).


I think.

If you just thought I was angry about something, rest assured you are normal.

It’s actually the former.

Common madder, aka Rubia tinctorum, is a dyer’s plant.  The roots are used to make a lovely red.  I haven’t made dye from it yet, so I don’t have my own photo, but here’s someone else’s to give you the idea:


So pretty.

I only have a couple of plants and am impatiently waiting the day when I have enough for a respectable harvest for dyeing.  I love this plant, and someone else does, too.

Can you tell someone‘s been munching on the leaves?  It’s a small caterpillar.  I haven’t identified it yet.

It hasn’t killed the plant so far, so I’m trying to co-exist with it, optimistically imagining it’s a lovely rare moth.

Madder is used in traditional medicine, too, for everything from jaundice to melancholy.  Just boil in wine and add honey.

That would make you pink and happy in no time.  Worth a try, anyway.

For purely medicinal purposes, of course.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily August 13, 2010 at 6:29 am

Let us know how the natural dyeing goes! There are lots of great garden plants you can use to dye out there, as you probably know. Lots of good books about it too. Do you think you’ll try it on the stove or solar dyeing?

Tomato Lady August 13, 2010 at 8:00 am

Emily–I will. I tried growing weld this season and it was going along but with the heat I think it has disappeared. My indigo didn’t do much either. I will probably experiment with different methods, thanks for mentioning solar–have to give it a go. Do you have a favorite book?

Kat August 13, 2010 at 9:41 am

Oh dear, sing me sign me up as a whackadoodle.
But I guess a WHAC is better than a whack?

Ginny August 13, 2010 at 9:54 am

I earned my WHAC! I look forward to the eventual dying experiment.

elsa August 13, 2010 at 5:18 pm

I wasn’t quite sure what it was but didn’t think you were mad … or madder for that matter … knew it HAD to be something interesting! glad it’s about dying (yarn that is)! looking forward to seeing what it is you’ll do!

Sarah August 13, 2010 at 8:21 pm

AWESOME website….very inspiring and encouraging, tell everyone I know about it!!!! can use any plants for dye as haircolor??? how cool would that be?! have a nice day!!

John Hablinski August 13, 2010 at 8:55 pm

I don’t remember just when I first learned about madder. I’ve been an avid reader for at least 50 of my 60 years of hanging around. When you read you just pick up on strange things. I guess that makes me a WHAC, but I think it is better than being a WHAC-O. I’m sure some have thought I was a bit of a whaco. I’m new to your site, and I don’t know what part of the country you are in, and I have no idea what climate madder and indigo like. I know madder was being used in the middle ages in England, but that doesn’t mean the plant grew there. Many things do grow in England because the English are the recipients of our Gulf Stream and it modifies their climate a bit.

Tomato Lady August 13, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Sarah–Thank you! You are a dear. As for the haircolor, here’s one thing I found:
Family legend ha it that an old aunt used black walnut husks to dye her hair. I can’t imagine how she kept from having a brown scalp, though. That stuff will stain everything within a mile of it.

Tomato Lady August 13, 2010 at 9:43 pm

John–We’re in zone 7, which apparently madder likes, but indigo has a tough time with. I’m not giving up, though.

Frugal Kiwi August 14, 2010 at 1:46 am

I’ve not tried dyeing with madder yet. Had a go with some eucalyptus though. That turned out well.

Emily August 14, 2010 at 7:06 am

‘A Dyer’s Garden’ by Rita Buchanan is a great book to start with. It’s small but with tons of good info. Beautiful photos too.

I personally like ‘Useful and Edible Plants of Texas and the Southwest’ ( It has a whole section on native dye plants, many of which are also indigenous to west TN. There’s more than just dyeing info in there too.

Lots of others out there too.

Emily August 14, 2010 at 7:07 am
Tomato Lady August 14, 2010 at 7:37 am

Emily–This is great, thank you. Sounds like this could be an endless series of projects. I’m in trouble now!

Liz August 14, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I would also recommend Rita Buchanan’s book.

One hint, hopefully helpful… I’ve found that if you let the madder root boil you don’t get a very vibrant color. So pre-mordant your yarn and bring the madder dye-bath to just below boiling.


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