Red Madder

The madder plant, Rubia tinctorium, produces a beautiful true red which was easily obtainable since the plant grows in many climates. The dye comes from the root of the plant and was used among other things, to dye the ‘redcoats” of the British uniform, and to produce ‘turkey red’ cotton printed goods such as the well-known red and white bandana. The plant is capable of producing a wide range of red colors depending on the mordant used.

An alternative red can be obtained from cochineal and kermes female insects which when crushed, release a red dye. Cochineal is still used in the food industry, known as color additive E 120, it is the coloring agent in Campari and Cherry Coke.

sketch of red madder
Kierstead, Sallie Pease. Natural Dyes. Boston: Humphries, 1950. Crerar Library: 667.27 W001