Definition of madder in English:



  • 1A Eurasian plant related to the bedstraws, with whorls of four to six leaves.

    Genera Rubia and Sherardia, family Rubiaceae: in particular R. tinctorum, formerly cultivated for its root which yields a red dye

    • ‘Threads for the work have been dyed in authentic colours of the period, using natural dyes some of which have been derived from plants like cow parsley, madder and walnut tree, picked locally by society volunteers.’
    • ‘The roots of lady's bedstraw, a roadside weed in the northeastern United States, produce a red dye on wool yarn, as does the root of the madder plant, a perennial originating in the Mediterranean regions.’
    • ‘Indigo is now derived from naphthalene, and anthracene yields alizarin, the dye formerly obtained from madder root.’
    • ‘In 1868 the German chemists Carl Graebe and Carl Liebermann synthesized the alizarin molecule, which is responsible for the red colour of the dye extracted from the root of the madder plant.’
    • ‘At all material times the First Respondent knew or ought to have known that the imported canola seed contained or may contain undesirable weed seeds including cleavers, red shank and field madder.’
    1. 1.1mass noun A red dye or pigment obtained from the root of the madder, or a synthetic dye resembling it.
      • ‘Vegetable dyes have always been cheaper, the most common in William Perkin's day were madder and indigo, the ancient red and blue dyes.’
      • ‘Although the pigments were the same, ranging from costly exotic ultramarine to local vegetable dyes such as madder and indigo, a radical change of technique was needed when they were mixed with egg-white or plant-gum rather than oil.’
      • ‘The same options were available for dyeing the wool or cotton, which could be accomplished by professionals or achieved at home using dyes such as madder, cochineal, and indigo.’
      • ‘Dyers had used some natural dyes, such as madder and indigo, for thousands of years.’
      • ‘The earliest conquistadors in the 1500s, who knew only the brownish madders and russets of the Old World, were dazzled by these Aztec reds; nothing back home could match their fiery intensity.’


Old English mædere, of Germanic origin; obscurely related to Dutch mede, in the same sense.