MADDER, or DYERS' MADDER, the root of Rubia tinclorum and perhaps also of R. peregrina, both European, R. cordifolia, a native of the hilly districts of India and of north-east Asia and Java, supplying the Indian madder or manjit. Rubia is a genus of about thirty-five species of the tribe Galieae of the order Rubiaceae, and much resembles the familiar Galiums, e.g. lady's bedstraw (G. verum) and the cleavers (G. aparine) of English hedges, having similarly whorled leaves, but the parts of the flowers are in fives and not fours, while the fruit is somewhat fleshy. The only British species is R. peregrina, which is found in Wales, the south and west of England, and in east and south Ireland. The use of madder appears to have been known from the earliest times, as cloth dyed with it has been found on the Egyptian mummies. It was the eptvdidavov used for dyeing the cloaks of the Libyan women in the days of Herodotus (Herod, iv. 189). It is the ipvdpodavov of Dioscorides, who speaks of its cultivation in Caria (Hi. 160), and of Hippocrates (De morb. mul. i.), and the Rubia of Pliny (xix. 17). R. tinclorum, a native of western Europe, etc., has been extensively cultivated in south Europe, France, where it is called garance, and Holland, and to a small extent in the United States. Large quantities have been imported into England from Smyrna, Trieste, Leghorn, etc. The cultivation, however, decreased after alizarin, the red colouring principle of madder, was made artificially. Madder was employed medicinally by the ancients and in the middle ages. Gerard, in 1597, speaks of it as having been cultivated in many gardens in his day, and describes its supposed many virtues (Herball, p. 960) ; but any pharmacological or therapeutic action which madder may possess is unrecognizable. Its most remarkable physiological effect is that of colouring red the bones of animals fed upon it, as also the claws and beaks of birds. This appears to be due to the chemical affinity of phosphate of lime for the colouring matter (Pereira, Mat. med., vol. ii. pt. 2, p. 52). This property has been of much use in enabling physiologists to ascertain the manner in which bones develop, and the functions of the various types of cells found in growing bone. R. chilensis has been used for dyeing red from time immemorial. The chay-root, which furnishes a red dye in Coromandel and other parts of India, is the root-bark of Oldenlandia umbellata, a low-growing plant of the same family as madder.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)