(Rubia tinctorum)

If there was one dye plant we would urge you to start this season, it would be madder. Not only does it represent a segment of the botanical dye rainbow that is difficult to acquire, but it also needs two years or more to reach maturity, which means procrastinating will keep pushing your harvest further and further into the future.

Madder was the primary source of red pigment throughout Eurasia before the Spanish colonized modern-day Mexico and began a violent campaign (both physical and cultural) to extract cochineal from native peoples. Some of the oldest pieces of red cloth found in archeological sites from India to northern Europe contain the pigment alizarin from madder. Its dye strength paired with its light fastness has led to its longevity.

Start seeds when the soil is warm. We prefer to start them indoors on a heated tray, and transplant to 1’ spacing after danger of frost has passed. They take longer to germinate than many other dye plants, so be patient and make sure they don’t dry out while germinating. Trellis your plants to make weeding easier. Otherwise, the sticky/scratchy hairs on the plant cause a rash on your hands if you are trying to weed under their sprawling vines. Here in Utah, we put a few inches of mulch over our madder plants in late autumn to protect them from temperatures below -5º F. You can begin harvesting roots during the second autumn.

Packet: 30 seeds

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