The madder root, also known as Rubia cordifolia root or Qian Cao Gen in mandarin, is one of the earliest natural sources of red dyes. In order to be able to adequately meet the market demand for the red pigment, madder was once widely planted in African, Asian, and European countries in ancient times, especially before the middle of the 19th century. However, it is more than just a dye for fabric and hair coloring. Medicinally it is also commonly used in Traditional Chinese medicine and in Ayurveda. Initially recorded in “Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic”, this Chinese herb is specialized in the treatment of blood symptoms. That’s to say, it has long been used as a medicine for coughing up blood, heavy nose bleeds, blood with urination, and so on. Thanks to its magic healing properties for blood disorders, it gained the nickname the “Xue Jian Chou”, which literally means that blood becomes so sad once it meets madder herb.
What is madder?
Commercially there are three major madder plants – European Madder (Rubia tinctoria), Asiatic Madder (Rubia argyi), and Indian Madder (Rubia cordifolia). But Rubia cordifolia is much more popular than other Rubia species in dye and medicine industries. For that reason, we are going to focus only on Rubia cordifolia, which also known as Dyer’s madder, Common Madder, Manjistha, Qian Cao, Majith, btsod, Tamaralli, Manditti, Manjista, Manjishta, and so on.
Medicinally it mainly refers to the dried roots and rhizomes of Rubia cordifolia L., which is a member in the coffee family – Rubiaceae. In China it is primarily cultivated in provinces like Anhui, Jiangsu, Shandong, Henan, and Shaanxi. It is usually collected in spring and autumn. After the harvest, remove the stems, dirt, and fibrous roots, wash clean, and finally dry in the sun. For medicinal purpose it needs to be used raw or fried.
Rubia cordifolia is a perennial herbaceous climber, which is from 1 to 2 meters in height. Purple or orange-red root is cylindrical, fleshy, and with red or pink cut surface. After dried, the surface becomes reddish brown or dark brown and purple and the severed surface turns fuchsia. Stems are rough, but young twigs have obvious 4 edges that are with small anatropous spines. Simple leaves are usually in whorls of 4; leaf blade is ovate or ovate-lanceolate, 2 to 9cm long, 1 to 4cm wide, and with acute apex, cordate or rounded base, coarse foliage, and tiny anatropous spines on the dorsal veins and edges; petioles are in different length and with tiny anatropous spines. Bloom time is from August to September. Pale yellow flowers arrange in cymes at the top of branches or leaf axils; calyx teeth are obsolete; corolla tube is very short and 5-lobed; stamens are 5. Fruiting time is from August to October. Fruits are nearly spherical, about 6mm in diameter, red, or from purple to black when ripe. Main habitats include hillslopes, roadside, ditches bands, edge of the rice field, thickets and forest edge.
Rubia root, or Radix Rubiae Cordifoliae, contains anthraquinone derivatives, naphthoquinone derivatives, hydroquinone derivatives, triterpenes, rubiatriol, isolariciresinol, and more. Anthraquinone derivatives include alizarin, purpurin, purpuroxanthine (xanthopurpurin), nordamnacantal, physcion, etc. Naphthoquinone derivatives include mollugin (rubimaillin), furomollugin, rubilactone, 2-Methoxymollugin, rubioncolin, etc. Hydroquinone derivatives include 2 carbomeiboxy-3-prenyl-1,4-naphthohydroqunone-di-beta-D-glucoside, anticancer cyclohexyl peptide derivatives Rubia akane (RA)Ⅰ, Ⅱ, Ⅲ, Ⅳ, Ⅴ, Ⅶ, Ⅵ, Ⅷ, Ⅸ, Ⅹ, Ⅺ, Ⅻ, Ⅹ Ⅲ, Ⅹ Ⅳ, Ⅹ Ⅴ, Ⅹ Ⅵ, etc. Triterpenes include Rubiprasin A, B, oleanolic acid acetate, oleanolic aldehyde acetate, scopoletol (scopoletin), fatty acids, β-sitosterol, daucosterol, etc.
Madder root benefits
Madder weed can be found easily on the roadside. Thanks to the Alizarin, an organic compound contained in madder root, this plant has what it takes to be an amazing textile dye, which is also called Rose madder because the red color. More than that, it also serves as a coloring agent known as Madder Lake for paint. As one of the most important natural dye materials in ancient China, its history can be dated back to the Zhou Dynasty, more than 2,000 years ago. Then a series of colors, such as dark red, crimson, vermilion, light red, can be made based on the madder color. Unlike the bright red hue from safflower, madder red, called Turkey red in the printing industry terminology, is relatively darker.
Long gone are the days now since the alizarin, an anthracene compound mainly invented as a madder substitute and a dye used in making of red pigments and other dyes, was invented. However, today madder dye still stays active – out there there are many popular madder-based products. For example, the madder root shampoo is an ideal color conditioner to touch up hair color. Compared to its uses as a dye, apparently its medicinal uses are much more important. Besides blood disorders, it has also been reported to treat soft tissue injury, candidiasis, mumps, chronic bronchitis, allergic purpura, leukopenia, hepatitis, and more
Modern pharmacological actions of common madder
1. It can significantly promote the blood coagulation, which features the shortened recalcification time, prothrombin time, and Kaolin Partial Thromboplastin Time (Activated Partial Thromboplastin Time with kaolin as activator);
2. Its crude extract can raise white blood cell count;
3. Its decoction has significant antitussive and expectorant effects;
4. Its water extract has certain inhibition on Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, bacillus influenzae, and some skin fungus;
5. It can inhibit the formation of calcium stones.
Sample Indian madder recipes on herbal remedies
The Chinese Pharmacopoeia believes that it is bitter in flavor and cold in nature and it goes to liver meridian. Common functions are cooling blood, stopping bleeding, removing stasis, and stimulating menstrual bleeding to restore regular cycling. Basic madder root uses and indications include coughing up blood, nose bleeding, uterine bleeding, traumatic bleeding, stasis-induced amenorrhea, joint arthralgia, and pain, bruising, or swelling after a fall. Recommended dosage is from 6 to 9 grams in decoction, powder, and pills.
1. Shi Hui San from Shi Yao Shen Shu (The Divine Text of Ten Medicinals). It is formulated with Xiao Ji (Field Thistle), Bai Mao Gen (Japanese Blood Grass), Shan Zhi Zi (Fructus Gardeniae), etc. to treat blood heat induced coughing up blood, nose bleeding, and blood in urine.
2. Qian Mei Wan from Pu Ji Ben Shi Fang (Prescriptions for Universal Relief). It is combined with Ai Ye (Mugwort Herb) and Wu Mei (Mume Fruit) to cure heavy nose bleeds.
3. Gu Chong Tang from Yi Xue Zhong Zhong Can Xi Lu (Records of Heart-Felt Experiences in Medicine with Reference to the West). It is matched with Huang Qi (Astragalus Root), Bai Zhu (White Atractylodes), Shan Zhu Yu (Asiatic Cornelian Cherry Fruit), etc. to heal metrorrhagia and metrostaxis due to deficient qi failing to control blood.
Madder root side effects and contraindications
In mice the median lethal dose of its hot water extract, purified by ethanol precipitation, is (49±3.3)g/kg weight. The LD50 of cyclohexyl peptide compound RA-Ⅶ, a substance isolated from madder root, is 10.0mg/kg in intraperitoneal injection, 16.5mg/kg intravenous injection, and 63.0mg/kg in oral administration. After this herb has been taken, pink urine can be found because of the red pigment contained. In addition, a more persistent nausea and mildly elevated blood pressure response have been observed in human subject research. TCM wise, use it with care in the cases of deficiency-cold in spleen and stomach and no stasis.