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Rubia cordifolia L.

Syst. nat. ed. 12, 3 (app.): 229 (1768).
Chromosome number
2n = 22
Vernacular names
Indian madder, munjeet (En). Garance indienne, manjit (Fr). Ruiva dos tintureiros da Νndia (Po). Kifundo, ukakaka (Sw).
Origin and geographic distribution
Rubia cordifolia has an extremely large area of distribution, ranging from Africa to tropical Asia, China, Japan and Australia. In Africa it is found from Sudan and Ethiopia to South Africa.
Rubia cordifolia has been and still is widely used as a dye plant in Asia. In Africa it appears to have been less important as a dye. Its use is only documented in South Africa, where the roots are used to dye wool, and in Ethiopia, where they serve to dye wool and bread baskets into various shades of red, pink, purple or maroon. The roots are an important ingredient in recipes of red inks that may also contain other red dye-plants such as the roots of Impatiens tinctoria A.Rich. and the bark of Osyris quadripartita Salzm. ex Decne. The juice of crushed fruits is bottled and used as green to bluish ink. Reports from Asian countries (particularly northern India, Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, China and Japan) show that a red dye extracted from the stems and roots has long been used to dye silk, linen and cotton fabrics (chintz), and wool (blankets and carpets). The red colorants present, though slightly different in chemical composition, give dyes quite similar in hues and fastness to those produced by Rubia tinctorum L., the European madder plant. To dye a piece of cloth, it is simmered in a decoction of the root and sometimes of the lower part of the stem in water, after having previously been mordanted with alum and (for chintz) with fatty and tannin mordants. Several synthetic dyes have now largely replaced Indian madder as a source of red dye for industrial production in Asia, but it is still used for high-quality traditional textiles.
In Tanzania ash of burnt stems and leaves is used as vegetable salt to soften vegetables when cooking. Rubia cordifolia is widely used in African traditional medicine. In Uganda and Tanzania the leaves are used as a poison antidote and to treat mouth sores and intestinal problems such as diarrhoea; a drink prepared from crushed and boiled leaves is administered to patients. Roots are credited with astringent and antidysenteric properties. In South Africa the root is used to treat impotence and as an aphrodisiac. In Tanzania and Kenya a wound dressing (‘kiraara’) is made by rubbing the leaves between the hand palms into a ball, which is then applied to a wound or cut to stop bleeding and as an antiseptic. A root decoction is used as an emetic in cases of stomach problems. In Rwanda a root decoction is used to treat women who experience weight loss during pregnancy (‘ifumbi’), urethral leak, giddiness, tingling sensations and kidney problems. In DR Congo the leaves are burnt and the ashes are used to treat inflammation of the mammary glands (mastitis) in cattle and also to treat itchy skin in humans. In Burundi a leaf decoction is administered to newly born calves with haemorrhagic diarrhoea (‘amacikire’) and also to treat external parasites such as fleas, ticks and mites in animals. In Ethiopia the leaves are used to treat malaria, itches and to stop bleeding, the roots to treat amoebic dysentery, cancer and cough. The leaves are eaten in Indonesia as a side dish with rice, and fresh fruits are edible. Rubia cordifolia can be used as an ornamental climber, but in cultivated fields it can behave as a troublesome weed.
Production and international trade
Rubia cordifolia does not appear to have been much cultivated, but was and still is mostly collected from the wild. At present, production and trade for its dye is almost confined to northern India and surrounding countries. In the past, starting at the end of the 18th century, roots were exported to the United Kingdom. Nowadays, powdered Indian madder for dyeing is exported e.g. to Europe, North America and Japan in small amounts that are difficult to quantify. In Africa Rubia cordifolia is only occasionally traded on local markets for use in traditional medicine.
The roots are reported by various authors to contain a very large range of yellow to red colorants, mostly anthraquinones in the free or glycosidic states: munjistin, purpurin, pseudopurpurin, purpuroxanthin, rubiadin, lucidin, nordamnacanthal, physcion, 1-hydroxy- 2-methyl-anthraquinone, 1-hydroxy-2-methoxy-anthraquinone, 1,4-dihydroxy-2- methyl-anthraquinone, 1,4-dihydroxy-6-methyl-anthraquinone, 1,4-dihydroxy-2-methyl- 5-methoxy-anthraquinone, 1,5-dihydroxy-2-methyl-anthraquinone, 1-acetoxy-6-hydroxy- 2-methyl-anthraquinone, 1,3-dimethoxy-2-carboxyanthraquinone, 1,3,6-trihydroxy- 2-methylanthraquinone. Other minor compounds belonging to different chemical groups (napthoquinones and naphthohydroquinones) have also been isolated from the roots, e.g. 3-prenyl-methoxy-1,4-naphtoquinone, mollugin, furomollugin and dehydro-α-lapchone. Alizarin (1,2-dihydroxy-anthraquinone), the most important colouring agent in the European madder Rubia tinctorum L. is present in small quantity in the stems, with purpurin, rubiadin and munjistin as major components. From the roots of Rubia cordifolia subsp. pratensis (Maxim.) Kitam., collected in China, 11 anthraquinones and their glycosides and 4 naphthohydroquinones (among which dihydromollugin) and their glycosides were isolated. The derivatives of 1,3,6-trihydroxy-2-methylanthraquinone so far isolated are only found in some forms of Rubia cordifolia and in Rubia akane Nakai from Asia. Differences in the composition of roots and stems to be noticed in the literature point to the need for a systematic chemotaxonomic research on the various forms of the plant, both in Asia and Africa. In India, mollugin showed inhibition of passive cutaneous anaphylaxis and protection of mast cell degranulation in rats. It also exhibited considerable activity against lymphoid leukemia in mice. In tests, the anti-inflammatory activity of an extract of the roots has been demonstrated.
Adulterations and substitutes
Rubia cordifolia and other Rubia species are currently sold together as ‘madder’. Rubia cordifolia should not be confused with Oldenlandia umbellata L., also called Indian madder and found in eastern India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka but not in Africa, which contains alizarin as red dye component.
Climbing or creeping perennial herb with stems up to 10 m long, with woody, long, cylindrical, flexuose roots with thin red bark; stem branched, with long internodes, distinctly 4-ribbed, 1.5–3 mm in diameter, with recurved prickles on the 4 ribs. Leaves arranged in whorls of 4, simple and entire; petiole (0.5–)5–12 cm long; blade lanceolate, cordate or ovate, 1.5–6.5 (–10) cm Χ 0.5–4 cm, base cordate or rounded, apex acute or acuminate, margins and veins below with recurved prickles, glabrous to hairy, with (3–)5(–7) prominent veins from the base. Inflorescence an axillary or terminal cyme up to 2.5 cm long, lax or dense; peduncle 1–2.5 cm long. Flowers bisexual, regular, (4–)5(–6)merous; pedicel up to 6 mm long; calyx obsolete; corolla rotate to campanulate, 3–6 mm in diameter, lobes triangular, greenishwhite to yellow; stamens inserted in corolla tube, anthers exserted; disk small, swollen; ovary inferior, 2-celled, styles 2, short, stigmas head-shaped. Fruit consisting of 1–2 globose mericarps 2.5–5 mm in diameter, bluish-black, each with a single seed. Seed globose, 1–3 mm in diameter.
Other botanical information
Rubia comprises about 60 species and is distributed in Europe, Africa and Asia, with 3 species in tropical Africa. It is closely related to Galium.
The name Rubia cordifolia L. is applied to a vast range of plants distributed all over Africa and Asia. Attempts to split the extremely variable Rubia cordifolia into several taxa have failed, and much experimental taxonomic work would be needed to unravel the systematics of this species and its allies. All African material is currently included in subsp. conotricha (Gand.) Verdc. (synonym: Rubia conotricha Gand.), which is also variable, varying mostly in shape, size and hairiness of the leaf and length of the petiole. In Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia the plants have the lower side of the leaves densely covered with white hairs and the corollas are distinctly campanulate. They have been distinguished as var. discolor (Turcz.) K.Schum. (synonym: Rubia discolor Turcz.). The 2 other species in Africa, Rubia petiolaris DC. and Rubia horrida (Thunb.) Puff, are confined to southern Africa and differ from Rubia cordifolia by having leaves arranged in whorls of 6–8(–12) instead of whorls of 4. Rubia petiolaris has been recorded from South Africa and Lesotho and Rubia horrida from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.
Rubia cordifolia has a wide ecological adaptability. It is found in forest edges and clearings, scrub vegetation and dune forest, less commonly in grassland or open, rocky areas, from sea-level up to 2600 m altitude.
Propagation and planting
Rubia cordifolia is occasionally cultivated in India (Darjeeling). It can be propagated by seed, cuttings and micropropagation methods. Seed germinates best when sown immediately after ripening; stored seed takes time to germinate. Plants should be grown in light shade.
In vitro production of active compounds
Experimental results from Rubia cordifolia cell cultures to produce anthraquinones for pharmaceutical purposes are promising.
Handling after harvest
In Africa the roots and stems are harvested exclusively from the wild. They are either used fresh and crushed, or dried and then ground to powder. To prepare the dye bath for wool or basket fibres, water is added to the crushed or ground roots and left to simmer for two hours, then the material to by dyed (pre-mordanted with alum, in the case of wool) is added to the dye-bath. It is allowed to simmer for another hour and left to cool down in the bath before washing and drying.
Genetic resources
Rubia cordifolia is widely distributed in secondary and disturbed habitats and is unlikely to be liable to genetic erosion. Its extreme variability requires more attention.
Rubia cordifolia has at present lost much of its former importance as a dyeproducing plant, but since it produces a great range of beautiful, fast colours and is easy to propagate, the current growing interest in natural dyes as renewable resources may make it a useful crop. Its effectiveness in disease treatments deserves more research and is being investigated in India where the plant was used in the Ayurvedic and Unani systems of medicine, besides being part of an anticancer compound in Tibetan medicine.
Major references
• Cardon, D., 2003. Le monde des teintures naturelles. Belin, Paris, France. 586 pp.
• Oyen, L.P.A., 1991. Rubia cordifolia L. In: Lemmens, R.H.M.J. & Wulijarni-Soetjipto, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 3. Dye and tannin producing plants. Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 112–113.
• Ruffo, C.K., Birnie, A. & Tengnδs, B., 2002. Edible wild plants of Tanzania. Technical Handbook No 27. Regional Land Management Unit/ SIDA, Nairobi, Kenya. 766 pp.
• Sakata, K. & Katayama, A., 1996. Dyeing of silk fabrics with the pigments separated from a powdered dry Indian madder. Journal of Sericultural Science of Japan 65(3): 170–174.
• Sakata, K. & Katayama, A., 1996. The pigments in a powdered dry Indian madder. Journal of Sericultural Science of Japan 65(1): 39–44.
• Tournerie, P.J.M., 1986. Colour and dye recipes of Ethiopia. Published by the author, Exeter, United Kingdom. 152 pp.
• Verdcourt, B., 1976. Rubiaceae (part 1). In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 414 pp.
• Verdcourt, B., 1989. Rubiaceae (Rubioideae). In: Launert, E. (Editor). Flora Zambesiaca. Volume 5, part 1. Flora Zambesiaca Managing Committee, London, United Kingdom. 210 pp.
Other references
• Bhuyan, R. & Saikia, C.N., 2005. Isolation of colour components from native dye-bearing plants in northeastern India. Bioresource Technology 96: 363–372.
• Dosseh, C., Tessier, A.M. & Delaveau, P., 1981. Racines de Rubia cordifolia 2: nouvelles quinones. Planta Medica 43: 141–147.
• Dosseh, C., Tessier, A.M. & Delaveau, P., 1981. Nouvelles quinones des racines de Rubia cordifolia L. 3. Planta Medica 43: 360–366.
• Bulgakov, V.P., Tchernoded, G.K., Mischenko, N.P., Shkryl, Y.N., Glazunov, V.P., Fedoreyev, S.A. & Zhuravlev, Y.N., 2003. Effects of Ca2+ channel blockers and protein kinase/phosphatase inhibitors on growth and anthraquinone production in Rubia cordifolia callus cultures transformed by the rolB and rolC genes. Planta 217(3): 349–355.
• Bulgakov, V.P., Tchernoded, G.K., Mischenko, N.P., Shkryl, Y.N., Glazunov, V.P., Fedoreyev, S.A. & Zhuravlev, Y.N., 2003. Increase in anthraquinone content in Rubia cordifolia cells transformed by rol genes does not involve activation of the NADPH oxidase signaling pathway. Biochemistry (Moscow) 68(7): 795–801.
• CSIR, 1972. The wealth of India. A dictionary of Indian raw materials & industrial products. Raw materials. Volume 9: Rh–So. Publications and Information Directorate, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi, India. 472 pp.
• Gelfand, M., Mavi, S., Drummond, R.B. & Ndemera, B., 1985. The traditional medical practitioner in Zimbabwe: his principles of practice and pharmacopoeia. Mambo Press, Gweru, Zimbabwe. 411 pp.
• Gupta, D., Gulrajani, M.L. & Kumari, S., 2004. Light fastness of naturally occurring anthraquinone dyes on nylon. Coloration Technology 120(5): 205–212.
• Gupta, P.P., Srimal, R.C., Neeraj Verma & Tandon, J.S., 1999. Biological activity of Rubia cordifolia and isolation of an active principle. Pharmaceutical Biology 37(1): 46–49.
• Jansen, P.C.M., 1981. Spices, condiments and medicinal plants in Ethiopia, their taxonomy and agricultural significance. Agricultural Research Reports 906. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 327 pp.
• Kasture, S.B., Kasture, V.S. & Chopde, C.T., 2001. Anti-inflammatory activity of Rubia cordifolia roots. Journal of Natural Remedies 1(2): 111–115.
• Kokwaro, J.O., 1993. Medicinal plants of East Africa. 2nd Edition. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi, Kenya. 401 pp.
• Puff, C., 1984. The genus Rubia L. (Rubiaceae) in Southern Africa. Journal of South African Botany 50(3): 347–363.
• Puff, C., 2003. Rubiaceae. In: Hedberg, I., Edwards, S. & Sileshi Nemomissa (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 4, part 1. Apiaceae to Dipsacaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 194–282.
• Suzuki, H. & Matsumoto, T., 1988. Anthraquinone production by plant cell culture. In: Bajaj, Y.P.S. (Editor): Medicinal and aromatic plants 1. Springer Verlag, Berlin, Germany. pp. 237–250.
• Takeya, K., Yamamiya, T., Morita, H. & Itokawa, H., 1993. Two antitumour bicyclic hexapeptides from Rubia cordifolia. Phytochemistry 33(3): 613–615.
• Tessier, A.M., Delaveau, P. & Champion, B., 1981. Nouvelles anthraquinones des racines de Rubia cordifolia. Planta Medica 41: 337–343.
• Tiwari, K.P., Tiwari, S.K., Sharma, M.C. & Siril, E.A., 1999. Preliminary studies on micropropagation of Rubia cordifolia - a medicinal herb from central India. Vaniki-Sandesh 23(1): 5–8.
• van Wyk, B.E. & Gericke, N., 2000. People’s plants: a guide to useful plants of southern Africa. Briza Publications, Pretoria, South Africa. 351 pp.
• Verdcourt, B., 1975. Studies in the Rubiaceae-Rubioideae for the flora of tropical East Africa. Kew Bulletin 30: 247–326.
• Vlietinck, A.J., van Hoof, L., Tottι, J., Lasure, A., vanden Berghe, D., Rwangabo, P.C. & Mvukiyumwami, J., 1995. Screening of hundred Rwandese medicinal plants for antimicrobial and antiviral properties. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 46: 31–47.
• Watt, J.M. & Breyer-Brandwijk, M.G., 1962. The medicinal and poisonous plants of southern and eastern Africa. 2nd Edition. E. and S. Livingstone, London, United Kingdom. 1457 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Verdcourt, B., 1976. Rubiaceae (part 1). In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. 414 pp.
• C. Zimudzi
Biological Sciences Department, University of Zimbabwe, P.O. Box MP 167, Mount Pleasant, Harare, Zimbabwe

• P.C.M. Jansen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
• D. Cardon
CNRS, CIHAM-UMR 5648, 18, quai Claude-Bernard, 69365 Lyon, Cedex 07, France
General editors
• R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
• L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
• Achmad Satiri Nurhaman
PROSEA Network Office, P.O. Box 332, Bogor 16122, Indonesia
Photo editor
• E. Boer
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Zimudzi, C., 2005. Rubia cordifolia L. In: Jansen, P.C.M. & Cardon, D. (Editors). PROTA 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

1, part of flowering stem; 2, flower; 3, fruit
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman

flowering branch
obtained from
C. Puff and used with permission