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Madder Root

Rubia tinctorum

The root of madder has been used as source of dye for wool, cotton, leather, and bone for thousands of years. Cloth dyed with madder has been found in the Tomb of Tutankamun, in ancient Athens, the ruins of Pompeii, and in one the world's first cities in the Indus Valley, Mohenjo-daro. The use of madder is unbroken into modern times as an important source for red dye until a process to synthesize alzirin, its primary pigment, from coal tar was discovered in 1868.

Madder root produces a dye ranging from yellow-orange to purple-red depending on the mordant chosen and the pH of the dyebath. To dye fabrics, first soften the roots overnight in cool water. The add mordanted cloth or fibers and gently warm the dye bath up to just below boiling (about 200 F) over the course of an hour while periodically stirring gently. Avoid boiling to prevent the dye from changing to a the color of red clay. To shift the color, add a bit of vinegar or other weak acid to make the color more yellow or add baking soda or another weak base like ammonia to make it more purple-red, then hold in the dye bath for another hour or so.

A paste of ground madder root can also be used to dye the leather head of the witch's drum, which is used to establish space at remote working sites and draw spirits. Additionally, this paste can be used to redden bones for use in divination, or carefully inlain to color sigils or runes. Furthermore, madder is employed during reddening the bones, a working to make the bones of an animal (typically the skull) a sacred object suitable for use as an icon or spirit house.

Root, cut: 30 g (1 oz):