We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Madder?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
About Mechanics is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At About Mechanics, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Madder is an evergreen plant native to the Old World. This plant has historically been used as a source of animal fodder, but it was commercially important for its red root, which was used to manufacture a dye known as madder or rose madder. The color varied from a medium to intense red with a rosy tint. It was one of the first dyes to be duplicated synthetically, in the form of alizarin crimson in the 1860s.

People have been using madder for centuries. Archaeological evidence shows that the Egyptians used it as a textile dye, and that it may also have been used in cosmetics. The color also appeared in Ancient Greece and Rome. It was one of the most wide-spread red dyes in use in Europe, leading people to compare people's lips to madder in verse, since the color was so commonly known.

Madder can be used on cotton, leather, wool, and silk. A mordant must be used in order to fix the dye, however, or it will run. Mordants bind with dyes to turn them insoluble, ensuring that they will bind to the material being dyed, but they do not prevent fade and eventual washout. In the case of this dye, alum was a commonly used mordant.

In addition to being used as a textile dye, madder was also employed in some traditional herbals, in the belief that it could be used to treat intestinal complaints and jaundice. The stem, flowers, roots, and seeds were all used in medical tinctures and preparations which could be swallowed or applied topically, depending on the formula. Many people thought the plant was good for the skin, especially in women, perhaps because it would have left a faint red blush behind after application.

Like other natural dyes, madder can be extremely inconsistent. Depending on how the roots are grown and handled, the color can vary, and even when a mordant is used, it is often not colorfast. As a result, most people prefer to use the synthetic form today when they want to create the distinctive rose hue of madder. However, natural pigment is still available in specialty dye shops, for people who like to experiment with traditional dyes, and enterprising crafters can also make their own dye, assuming they can find wild plants or those under cultivation, which can be a bit of a challenge.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Charitable — On Sep 20, 2010

@TimeTheorist - I've seen rose madder hues that were considerably "pinker" than what you have described. In fact, I've seen a color that much more closely resembled hot pink called "rose madder". I think that traditionally, rose madder hue is supposed to resemble the color you've described. I guess it just goes to show how much variation there is amongst dyes, even in today's industrial market.

By TimeTheorist — On Sep 20, 2010

@lotusfeet - I can. It's a very deep red. It's not so much a dark hue as a deep one (when compared to thinner rose reds and darker crimson hues). When rose madder paint is thinned out a bit, it has traces of a very light purple in it, which I suspect helps to give the color such a deep tone. So, simply put, it is a middle range red color with a very slight purplish undertone.

By lotusfeet — On Sep 20, 2010

What does the now standard modern "rose madder" hue look like? Can someone describe it to me?

By anon109381 — On Sep 07, 2010

Thank you for this article. I've used Rose Madder in my paintings for a number of years and love the color, just regret the tendency for it to fade.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
About Mechanics, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

About Mechanics, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.