Harvesting Madder Root

by Daisy

Back in, hm, let’s check the date stamp on the photos . . . the latter days of March, I decided to dig up the madder plants that had begun to sprout and harvest the root for dyeing.

The madder is some I started from seed I bought from Fedco Seeds three years ago.  The root of madder is known as a dyer’s plant and it yields a red dye, sometimes an orangey dye, and sometimes a pink or red-brown dye. Its claim to fame is its redcoat red dye, and that’s sort of the holy grail of red dyes, a nice, deep, true red color.

Let me tell you something about madder.

I think I know why it’s called madder, because, like its relatives in the bedstraw clan, it is the clingyiest, most maddening thing to tangle with you will ever know apart from a bad girl/boyfriend. Case in point: I planted some next to a row of thorny raspberry canes and at harvest time for the berries I came to prefer by a long shot dealing with the thorns of the raspberries than dealing with the madder. With the raspberries you can find somewhere on them where you can hold them aside to grab a berry; with the madder, every bit of it is tenacious and raspily painful in a way that sets my teeth on edge. Rubber-dipped or leather gloves are the only way to deal with them.

I don’t mind an occasional fight, though, if there’s a payoff eventually, so I’m glad I grew it. Although the roots are best dug in the fall, late winter is a good second-best. Early spring is pushing it, so I’ll see if I can get a quality dye out of it.

I raked aside the mulch (see those red roots?)


I dug up all around the plant.


I carried the root ball over to a tarp and rinsed and rinsed the roots with a strong jet of water.


The clean red roots in the sun:




Once they were rinsed as well as I could get them, I chopped them up outside on a cutting board and spread them out on newspaper to dry in the sun.



Once dry, I stored them in a ziplock bag. Join me in the next days as I try to dye both wool and silk with the homegrown roots.

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Cindy B May 14, 2014 at 5:45 am

Anxious to see the wool once it’s dyed – the color of the roots looks like it will make a beautiful color!

Connie Murray May 14, 2014 at 6:43 am

Wow, madder roots. Think I read about those in a Ken Follet novel! Would love to see the results of their dye on wool. I belong to a rug hooking group where we make rugs out of wool scraps. Lots of the ladies in my group dye their own wool. It would be really fun to grow the dye and then use it in a rug. The hooked rugs are both practical and sometimes amazingly beautiful. Looking forward to seeing the results of the madder dye!

Deb Young May 14, 2014 at 11:51 am

I’d like to see samples of your wool rugs made out of scraps

Judy S May 14, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Very interesting. Don’t forget to share the results.

Will you make other dyes?

Daisy May 14, 2014 at 5:42 pm

Judy S–I’m working on it right now. I’d like to try other dyes, we’ll see how this one goes.

nevra October 1, 2016 at 11:13 am

hi, i am live in Turkey. I want to grow a madder. How should additional material harvested 10 kilos of seed to achieve. how much should ? supplement to soil. Can you help me?

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