Inquiry has been made in different sections of the country for practical information concerning madder, its qualities, habits of growth, culture, and preparation for market. Petitions to Congress have been submitted upon the same subject, and congressional inquiry has been directed to it. While it is not deemed a very promising crop for American farmers generally, at present prices of labor, it is thought worthy of a brief treatise, for it is quite possible, in central or southern States, near towns having available supplies of labor at the precise time required, that the crop may be cultivated to advantage, especially with the use of improved economic modes of culture and labor-saving machines.


Madder (Rubia tinctoria) has long been cultivated for the dye extracted from its roots. The Greeks and Romans used it two thousand years ago. It was called rubia by the Romans, and by several different names by the Greeks, one of which, verantia, has given the French word garance, by which the plant is distinguished in France. One of its extracts, peculiar to that country, is largely imported into this country, and called garancine.
There is a difference in the intensity of the coloring principle in madders from different localities ; and, as generally stated, there are two distinct principles—alizarine, red, and wanthine, a yellow color. Some have recognized still another, purpurie, insoluble in water, obtained by treating the powdered root, when exhausted of its alizarine, for some hours in a hot solution of alum, with a little sulphuric or hydrochloric acid, by which a precipitate is obtained soluble in alcohol, and yielding purpurine by distillation. The primary coloring principle, alizarine, is obtained by mixing madder in fine powder with an equal weight of sulphuric acid, and allowing it to remain a few days until all the vegetable elements but alizarine are carbonized, when the acid is washed out with water, the residue digested with cold alcohol to dissolve fatty matters, then dissolved in boiling alcohol, from which the coloring matter is obtained by distillation. It is without smell, insipid to the taste, neutral to test papers, slightly soluble in cold water, but soluble in ether or alcohol in all proportions. The aqueous solution is of a pure rose-red color; the etherial, a golden yellow. Sulphuric acid gives a solution of a blood-red color. Xanthine, the yellow coloring matter, is soluble in. water and alcohol, and sulphuric acid produces a green. It is probable, after all, that these products are all modifications of one coloring principle. It is used for coloring cotton goods mainly. It does not answer well for silks, not affording a. color of sufficient brilliancy. It is very useful and convenient in calico printing, on account of the different tints obtained by the use of different mordants, in- eluding red, purple, yellow, orange yellow, and brown.
It has been shown, by analyses made by Mr. Carnes, in Lowell, Massachusetts, that the ashes of the French madder of Avignon contained 32 per cent of carbonate of lime, while Turkey madder yielded but 18, and a Massachusetts product 23 per cent. To this fact he attributed the superiority of the Avignon madder, believing that a portion of the mineral had been mixed with the root in grinding, and holding that a similar admixture would make ours the best madder in the world, from the fact that the introduction of five per cent. of chalk into the home product had produced a result equalling the best French madder dyeing.


Twenty years ago the imports of madder were so considerable as to induce experiments in its culture and preparation. From a statement made in 1848 there was imported into New York in eighteen months from January 1, 1845, and into Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, in twenty-one months from the same date, an aggregate of 16,804,715 pounds, costing $1,620,415, or about ten cents per pound.
In the statistics of the commerce and navigation division of the treasury, from which the following table is compiled, the quantity given for the first three years (though the class is not specified) is presumed to be “ground or prepared.”

Statement of imports of madder into the United States from 1855 to 1864, inclusive.
RootGround or PreparedExtractTotal

*Including India madder.
**Including extract of logwood also,

The largest portion of this importation comes from France, Holland, Belgium, and Turkey furnish much of the remainder. These prices are those of the countries from which the import comes, and represent gold values. The present quotations in New York are: Dutch, 7¼ to 8½ cents; French, 7½ to 8½ cents, in gold.
It is stated that the demand for madder is less than formerly, in proportion to the amount of manufacturing done, in consequence of the substitution of analine dyes extracted from coal-oil or petroleum; and the price has been somewhat reduced at the same time. Twenty years ago the price was about ten cents per pound. In 1864 the root was bought abroad, in gold, for eight cents seven mills, and the prepared for seven cents two mills per pound. In currency, however, in our ports it must have commanded at that time little short of twenty cents. - The same fact must be taken into consideration, to some extent, in estimates of probable prices and profits in the future.
In 1865 the imports were nearly all from France, in the form of extract and garancine. Our French correspondent gives the process of making garancine at Avignon. It is first washed to separate the yellow coloring or xanthine. It is then boiled with fifty per centum of sulphuric acid at 66°, to render the fibre soluble. Again the acid is washed out, and it is pressed, dried, and ground. The water of the first washing, by fermentation and distillation, produces a very strong alcohol used in the arts.


A mild climate is essential to the best growth and highest development of its peculiar properties; yet it is cultivated throughout a wide range of climate— on the East India coasts, the shores of the Mediterranean, and upon the northern German coasts. All of our middle, southern, and western States afford a climate suitable for the culture.
A rich and deep dry soil is required, with a good proportion of humus; and if a decayed grass-sward is selected, it is all the better. If rich and deep, so that the roots may readily develop and spread, a soil inclining to sand may be better than stiffer soils. In France it is grown in all kinds of land, but in soils too dry or sandy it is said that “the root remains small, produces little, and after trituration has a very light color.”
The roots, which are long and crawling, ligneous, and divided into branches, are yellowish in color and of an astringent taste. In light soils they are small and of a red orange color when dried in the air. In soft, light, rich lands they are grayish in color, but dusky red when powdered. In France the root is extensively cultivated, especially in the department of Vaucluse, where an extensive area, formerly swamps, and lightly esteemed by the proprietors, has been drained, and now commands a high price, and produces an excellent quality of madder. These lands contain a very large proportion of chalk. Undrained or badly drained soils are entirely unsuitable to its growth; and, therefore, heavy uplands, tenacious with a stiff clay, are found to be unprofitable for such a crop. River bottoms, not clayey, and especially “second bottoms,” which contain a rich, light loam abounding in humus, are employed to advantage.

In Zealand it is grown upon alluvial bottoms deposited by the sea, which are highly alkaline and silicious, and produce a root of yellowish color. It is propagated there by shoots or sets planted in May, in rows two feet apart. Clean culture by weeding and covering in autumn is pursued, and the roots are taken up and dried by means of stoves, and are a second time dried before being ground.
The yield in Zealand averages 2,350 pounds of powdered madder. The winter being severe, the roots are oftentimes taken up at eighteen months old. The product is less in such case, but the risk and trouble of a second wintering is avoided.

In the French department of Vaucluse it is grown from seed in a chalky alluvial deposit, and is sown in beds five or six feet wide, with a space of eighteen inches between the beds. In November of the first year, the young plants are covered two or three inches with earth taken from between the beds. In the second and third years the beds are carefully weeded, and the foliage cut for forage when in flower. The roots are dug in August or September of the third year, and simply cleaned if the earth is dry, but washed if so damp as to adhere. In digging, the earth is loosened by a spade or fork, and the roots are drawn, piled, dried in the open air, and packed in bales.
The Department of Agriculture has received, through the courtesy of the Secretary of State, several communications relative to the French mode of culture, forwarded by Consul Geo. W. Van Horne, from Marseilles, prepared by practical operators of that vicinity.
From one of these communications—that of Mons. A. de Speyr, of Avignon— the following extracts are made, detailing the experience of many years in the cultivation of madder in the department of Vaucluse:
"Composition of the best soils:
Sand............. 40.8
Lime............... 2.3
Clay.............. 53.5
Humus........... 3.4

"Of an inferior quality:
Sand............. 22
Lime............... 3.5
Clay.............. 73
Humus........... 1.5

"Seed.—The seed should be perfectly dry and free from fermentation. The seed of the paluds is much better than that of the roses. One may preserve it in a good state for two years by keeping it in a dry place and subjecting it to a thorough ventilation.
"Sowing—A ridge of eight or nine inches wide and one and a half inch deep is made with a spade and sowed. At a distance of two inches another ridge, of the same size, is run, having care to cover the seed of the first ridge with the earth taken from the second, and so on to the completion of the third ridge. These three ridges form a platband about three feet wide, separated from each other by a space one and a half feet in width, left as a path for the laborer in weeding. From this path also is taken the earth to cover the plants in autumn, when the leaves are dead. For the sake of economy these paths are sometimes planted with potatoes, beets, &c., but each extra plant should be put far apart.
“If the earth is well pulverized, instead of the seed being sown, one, had better plant roots of the preceding year’s growth, as crops obtained from the plants display much finer roots than when raised directly from the seed. But if the ground is not friable, but hard and clayey, the plants would not grow well, and possibly would not take at all. In this case seed must be sown. An acre of madder produces seed sufficient for three or four acres of sowing.
“ Transplanting. —For the transplanting of roots, as indicated above, ridges, about three feet wide and three inches deep, are made, and the roots laid therein just free from each other ; and between these ridges an uncultivated space is left, as in sowing.
“ Weeding—The seed is sown, or the roots transplanted, in March, and great care must be observed in keeping the land free from weeds; the paths, also, being attended to in this respect.
"Irrigation—When the land is dry, from drought, it will be necessary to water it by irrigating the intermediate paths, if possible. Slimy water is preferable to clear water for this purpose.
“ Covering —In autumn, when the plants lose their verdure and turn to a grayish tint, they must be covered with one and a half or two inches of earth taken from the paths. In the following spring the clods must be broken with a rake.
"Digging —The madder cultivated in strong, dry soils may be removed in a and from wet lands in eighteen months. Thus the madder of the mountain — three years to mature well, while the paluds may be dug in from one and a half to three years. The roots should not be extracted until the seed has been produced. Some cultivators, who are pressed for the moneyed results of their labors, do not wait for the seed ; but the madder thus prematurely gathered is of an inferior quality.
   “The ramifications of the stalk are first cut, dried, and threshed for the seed; the straw, or refuse, is saved as fodder for cattle. The roots are then dug with the spade or fork, and as their length will average one and a half feet, it can be seen that their removal leaves the land in a prepared state for some other crop.
   "Drying —When dug they are spread on the aire, (usually a level spot of ground paved with brick,) where they are dried by the action of the sun and air. When the larger roots may be easily broken, they should be heaped up, so that the smaller tips (pettis couts) may become thoroughly dry. Care must be taken that this place be free from dampness.
   "Trituration—When the roots are sufficiently dry they are embaled and sent to the manufacturers, where they are stored in a well-ventilated granary. It is taken from the granary in proportion to each day’s demand, and, having caused it to lose 15 to 16 per cent. of water in a drying oven, it is passed under a large mill-stone and ground to powder. The bolters keep the coarser portion for a second grinding.”
The following are extracts from the statement (recently received) of Messrs. Imer Brothers and Leenhardt, relative to the expenses of cultivation in the district about Marseilles:

Expenses per hectare (two and a half acres) by manual labor.

Soft soil, (paluds.) Compact soil. Days in winter for breaking or ploughing..| 44 at frs. 2—= 88.00 | 90 at frs. 2— 180.00 Manure, (dung, ) wagons of 22 at frs. 20 = 440.00 | 22 at frs. 20= Carting - 22 at frs. 132.00 | 22 at frs. 6—= Seed, kils 85 at frs. 34.00 3 Sowing, days’ work of men and women. 8 at frs. 3—= 24.00 Weeding, days’ work of women... 66 at frs. 1= 66.00 Covering in summer three times, 34.00 Covering in winter, fixed price. . 24.75 Rent of land < "It is found, in taking a piece of ground of great firmness and of a productiveness of 33 quintaux of root per hectare, that the expense will amount to only 26.40 francs per quintal, (110 pounds;) whilst in lands of less tenacity there will be a yield, say, of 55 quintaux, which would reduce the cost of the first crop to 15 francs the quintal.”

The plant is found to be very hardy in this country, is entirely exempt from injury by insects, and not liable to suffer from drought in deep soils after the first season. Twenty years ago it was produced to some extent in some portions of the country, especially in Ohio. Some of the most successful cultivators reported a product of 2,000 pounds: per acre. A Mr. Joseph Swift, of Birmingham, Erie county, Ohio, for several years engaged in its production, with profitable results for a time at least. The following is a statement of one of his crops, as reported originally by Mr. M. B. Bateham :
By 2,000 pounds of madder, at 15 cents per pound....... eae --- $300 00 Contra—To 100 days’ work, at 75 cents .......- $75 00 To use of land four years, at $4 per acre. 16 00 To grinding, packing, &e.....--.-..00---00 9 00 100 00 SEG AINE ALDTOUL OF - otecin nos carictscscmemes Rae enna 200 00 Its cultivators have sometimes met with loss from drought soon after planting. The great length of time required for maturing the crop has been a great drawback to its cultivation, especially if coupled with ill success through drought in starting a plantation.
The soil in which the Ohio experiments were made was in most cases river bottom, not wet or liable to overflow. Good strong upland, not clayey enough to bake hard, was thought to be almost as good, and a soil impregnated with lime was found to produce the best quality.
The land was ridged up in the autumn, and in the spring received a dressing of barn-yard manure, sometimes with leaf mould or decomposed muck in the case of uplands, previous to ploughing and harrowing. For planting, light, straight furrows were made, eight feet apart, and the roots were laid lengthwise one foot apart and covered to the depth of two inches. Ten bushels of sets were sufficient for one acre.
A cultivator was employed between the rows, with hoes along the rows as soon as the plants made their appearance, and such cultivation was continued at such intervals as to keep the surface free from weeds. The more thorough in this respect, the less labor was needed the next season.
Vacancies were filled up by lifting and dividing some of the stronger roots, when the plants were well rooted, in May or June. When twelve or fifteen inches high, the tops were bent down on each side and covered with earth, excepting the tip. This operation was continued whenever the new shoots had attained the same height as before, until the entire space between the rows was filled, with the exception of a space of two feet in the middle, which was kept clean and mellow by a single plough. This process of layering filled the whole space with roots, and left no necessity for culture the second year, with the exception of weeding and ploughing the middles. But the tops were bent down and covered to fill closely the remaining space, until it became difficult to get dirt in the ditches with which to cover. Care was exercised to keep the edges of the bed as high as the centre, to prevent the too rapid drainage of water and the danger from drought.
Washing and drying.—The roots were washed in some running stream. If none was near, they were washed in large sieves, the wire as fine as that of wheat sieves half a bushel at a time, the roots being carefully pulled apart while washing. Two hands could thus wash 125 to 150 bushels per day. They were then spread on platforms made of tight boards, making a layer of roots four inches in depth upon each, and dried in the sun, the platforms being set up so as to incline towards the south. Five or six days of dry weather, with protection from dews at night, was found sufficient to cure it. Subsequently it was kiln-dried and ground.
Kiln-drying.—The following plan was recommended and adopted in these Ohio experiments, by which the drying was accomplished in ten or twelve hours: « Place four strong posts in the ground, twelve feet apart one way and eighteen the other ; the front two fourteen feet high and the other eighteen; put girths across the bottom, middle, and. top, and nail boards perpendicularly on the out- side, as for a common barn, The boards must be well seasoned, and all cracks or holes should be plastered or otherwise stopped up. Make a shed roof of common boards; in the inside put upright standards about five feet apart, with cross-pieces to support the scaffolding; the first cross-pieces to be four feet from the floor, the next two feet higher, and so on to the top. On these cross-pieces lay small poles about six feet long and two inches thick, four or five inches apart. On these scaffolds the madder is to be spread eight or nine inches thick. A floor is laid at the bottom to keep all dry and clean. When the kiln is filled, take six or eight small kettles or hand-furnaces and place them four or five inches apart on the floor, (first securing it from fire with bricks or stones,) and make fires in them with charcoal, being careful not to make any of the fires so large as to scorch the madder over them. A person must be in constant attendance to watch and replenish the fires; (but he should be cautioned not to remain long inside, as the gas from charcoal fires is liable to cause suffocation.)”
Breaking and grinding.—The roots, which are brittle when dry, were broken by threshing with flails, or passing through a bark mill or other crusher. They were ground immediately after kiln-drying; otherwise they would gather dampness. After crushing, the grinding was done in a common grist-mill. It was then packed in vessels, like flour,-and was ready for market.
So far as I have been able to ascertain, the culture of madder is not carried on to any extent in this country at the present time. We have a suitable climate and productive soils. The greatest obstacle to success with it seems to be the high price of agricultural labor and the scarcity of casual or irregular labor, which renders it difficult to obtain help at the precise season when required. Another reason is found in the proverbial disinclination of our people to agricultural or any other species of productive industry which requires three years to secure returns. It seems to be a remunerative crop, if it can be produced under favorable circumstances. By the selection of a proper soil and a very favorable climate, (perhaps in the southern States or in California, where its constant growth might produce an excessive yield with labor of German women or children, or Chinamen,) with system and labor-saving appliances in cultivating and preparing it, a profitable result might be secured. It is very proper and highly desirable that a fair and persistent trial should be made to overcome the difficulties which have interfered with the enterprise thus far.
If there are those who would make another effort at the present time, let them choose a southern or southwestern aspect, and select a deep, rich, sandy, and calcareous loam, free from all weeds. Let it be ploughed early in the autumn, and again turned up into ridges before the winter frosts set in, so that the soil may be finely pulverized in spring, when the beds are prepared and the sets planted. The ground should be dry before planting.
As a preparation for planting, the soil should be thoroughly and deeply pulverized, and well-rotted manure well incorporated with it. The sets, taken from plantations two or three years old, should have roots four or five inches long. ‘The roots should be dipped in a thin paste of fine rich earth and water, and set with a dibble, leaving the crown above the surface and the earth properly compacted about the roots. During the summer months clean culture is required, with hoe or cultivator, or, while the plants are young, with a light plough; and in the autumn, after the tops decay, the plants should be earthed up for the winter, as a protection against frost.
The following extract from a note received from Mr. M. B. Bateham, of Columbus, Ohio, formerly editor of the Ohio Cultivator, corroborates the views herein expressed: “TI believe the business has been entirely discontinued in Ohio, and Ihave no knowledge of its being practiced in any other State. The reasons for this are not from any lack of adaptedness of soil or climate, but simply because the business requires much labor, which must be done by hand, and can only be carried on to advantage near large towns, where Germans or other cheap laborers can be readily obtained at special times when wanted. This was the cause of the abandonment of the business by Mr. Swift and others who have tried it in Ohio. My own experiment, near Columbus, was on soil found unsuited to the purpose. It was too rich and clayey, (alluvial river bottom.) Good sandy alluvium is found well adapted to this crop. For the past few years the price of labor has been too high to encourage any one to engage in madder growing.”