Thursday, September 07, 2017

Common Rue; Herb-of-Grace/ Almindelig Rude

Ruta graveolens

Common Rue(Almindelig Rude) 
Ruta graveolens, commonly known as rue, common rue or herb-of-grace, is a species of ruta grown as an ornamental plant or herb. It is an aromatic half shrub with a loose, bushy growth and with yellowish-green leaves and small yellow flowers. The yellow flowers arrive in June-August; the fruits are capsules with many seeds. The root system has many heavy and deep roots with few side roots. It is native to the Balkan Peninsula; it grows in dry regions and has adjusted the Mediterranean climate. 

The name ruta comes from the Greek word yte, which means window (Danish: rude) and graveolens means strong smell.

It is grown throughout the world in gardens, especially for its bluish leaves, and sometimes for its tolerance of hot and dry soil conditions. It is also cultivated as a medicinal herb, as a condiment, and to a lesser extent as an insect repellent. Common rue was always valuated because of its ability to repel pests (like cucumber beetles). The species was earlier used as a medical plant and as a spice herb but today mostly used as a drought tolerant, ornamental plant. Rue has a bitter and sharp taste and is not usable in the kitchen, but the plant is good in making some low small hedges in the herbal garden, since it can withstand cropping.

The common rue (Ruta graveolens) is commonly cultivated in Denmark. Today is is preferred in many homes and gardens because of its strong scent and its ability to repel  insects from some crops. Rue grows wild in a few places in Denmark, feral from earlier cultivation as a medical and spice herb.


Fresh rue was used in magical rituals since antiquity, and it is one of the earliest garden plants, which was cultivated for its magic abilities. Several  ancient civilizations used rue and worshiped its powers. During the Middle Ages rue was a very used medical plant, used against various diseases. The whole plant is rich in etheric oils and has a strong unpleasant smell. The Romans  and Greeks used it in antiquity as a spice and as a medicine, and it was later famous for attenuating the lust of the flesh in monks and nuns. In the year 795 king Ludwig the Pious ordered that rue had to grow in all kloster gardens and that nuns and monks had to eat it each day to keep their chastity. Evil tongues claimed that the plant was in the gardens of the nunneries because it was used as an abortifacient.  

The Romans cultivated rue and brought it with them when they visited prisoners, because they believed the plant would avert "the Evil Eye". The Chinese used it to counteract negative thoughts or wishes. The Celtic wizards said that rue was a defense against magic and could be used to promote healing. Rue was sacred to the early Jews, Egyptians and Caledonians; they believed it was a gift from the Gods. In the old America rue was used by the Indian societies for spells, and they claimed that they could win the heart of their love forever by placing a branch under the light of the moon, before giving it to their love.

Rue is also a common ingredient in witchcraft and spell making. During the Middle Ages it was a symbol of recognition between witches. The Catholic Church also used a branch of rue to sprinkle holy water on its followers during this time known as the "herb of grace."

Tacuinum handbook
The Tacuinum Sanitatis, a medieval handbook on wellness, lists these properties of rue:
Nature: Warm and dry in the third degree.
Optimum: That which is grown near a fig tree.
Usefulness: It sharpens the eyesight and dissipates flatulence.
Dangers: It augments the sperm and dampens the desire for coitus.
Neutralization of the Dangers: With foods that multiply the sperm.
The refined oil of rue is an emmenagogue and was cited by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder and the gynecologist Soranus as a potent abortifacient (inducing abortion).



Folk Medicine


Harpestræng ab. 1300s: eliminates the desire for women; the juice to take for abscesses in the body; fresh plant to eat for purblind eyes; juice of rue and fennel mixed with chicken bile and honey for an ointment  which gives clear eyes; if someone drank the juice of the plant or had eaten it raw they could not be harmed by poison.   

1400s: crushed green rue and laurel mixed with earthworms and vinegar upon face against headache; the seeds mixed with pigeon shit and seethed syrup of vinegar and honey for dropsy; wine decoct or the seeds mixed with deer- or goat's horn to take against rhinitis.  

Christiern Pedersen, 1533: leaves, walnut cernels and figs to eat as an antidote against the plague; crushed leaves of rue mixed with honey and put upon the navel expel worms; juice mixed with honey or morning dew and the juice from the wine clear the eyesight; crushed rue mixed with dog shit to put upon plague abscesses.

Henrik Smid 1546: the plant resists all venom and poisons; the juice mixed with alum, saltpeter and honey heals "the bulky and shabby head."  

1624: Klog mand (healer) (+1624) in southwest Jutland treated fresh wounds with rue, plucked on Midsummer's Night and put into Rhine wine and mixed with horse manure.  

1693: in times of the plague has to be smoked with green rue and five other plants and chips from the billy goat's horn; rue and lovage mixed with honey for a patch upon snake bites.

1799: pulverized rue, feverfew and St. John's wort-oil used for an ointment upon the wrist-artery for stroke.   

Herb and seed were written into the Pharmacopoeia in 1772. 

 Livestock: Rue was used for various diseases in cattle, horse and swine.  

Superstition: 1300s: The weasel eats rue before fighting a snake, then it will not be hurt by the poison. 1774: Rue was plant close to Sage in order to prevent poisonous animals to be there. Some people believed that the smell from rue dispels the toad.  


Culinary use 

rue foliage

In Denmark it is advised not to use rue as a spice or culinary herb, since it has given liver damage on laboratory rats. It is also advised to avoid sun light and to  wash the skin thoroughly with soap water if the juice from the plant has touched the skin. 

Rue has a culinary use, but since it is bitter and gastric discomfort may be experienced by some individuals, it is used sparingly. Although used more extensively in former times, it is not an herb that is typically found in modern cuisine. Today it is largely unknown to the general public and most chefs, and unavailable in grocery stores. It is a component of berbere, the characteristic Ethiopian spice mixture, and as such is encountered in Ethiopian cuisine.

It has a variety of other culinary uses:
It was used extensively in ancient Near Eastern and Roman cuisine (according to Ibn Savyar-al-Warraq and Apicius).
Rue is used as a traditional flavouring in Greece and other Mediterranean countries.
In Istria (a region in Croatia), and in Northern Italy, it is used to give a special flavour to Grappa/Raki and most of the time a little branch of the plant can be found in the bottle. This is called grappa alla ruta.
Seeds can be used for porridge.
The bitter leaf can be added to eggs, cheese, fish, or mixed with damson plums and wine to produce a meat sauce.
In Italy in Friuli Venezia-Giulia, the young branches of the plant are dipped in a batter, deep-fried in oil, and consumed with salt or sugar. They are also used on their own to aromatise a specific type of omelette.
Used in world beers as flavouring ingredient. 

Rue is also grown as an ornamental, both as a low hedge and so the leaves can be used in nosegays.
Most cats dislike the smell of it, and it can, therefore, be used as a deterrent to them. Caterpillars of some subspecies of the butterfly Papilio Machaon feed on rue, as well as other plants. The caterpillars of Papilio xuthus also feed readily on it.
In South India, rue is recommended for home gardens to repel snakes (however the effectiveness is unknown).


burnt skin from rue.

Rue extracts are mutagenic and hepatotoxic. Large doses can cause violent gastric pain, vomiting, systemic complications, and death. Exposure to common rue, or herbal preparations derived from it, can cause severe phytophotodermatitis which results in burn-like blisters on the skin.

The bitter taste of its leaves led to rue being associated with the (etymologically unrelated) verb rue "to regret". Rue is well known for its symbolic meaning of regret and it has sometimes been called "herb-of-grace" in literary works. It is one of the flowers distributed by the mad Ophelia in William Shakespeare's  Hamlet (IV.5):
"There's fennel for you, and columbines:
there's rue for you; and here's some for me:
we may call it herb-grace o' Sundays:
Millais: Ophelia
O you must wear your rue with a difference..."
It was planted by the gardener in Richard II to mark the spot where the Queen wept upon hearing news of Richard's capture (III.4.104–105):
"Here did she fall a tear, here in this place
I'll set a bank of rue, sour herb of grace."
It is also given by the rusticated Perdita to her disguised royal father-in-law on the occasion of a sheep-shearing (Winter's Tale, IV.4):
"For you there's rosemary and rue; these keep
Seeming and savour all the winter long."
It is used by Michael in Milton's paradise lost to give Adam clear sight (11.414):
"Then purg'd with euphrasy and rue
The visual nerve, for he had much to see."
Rue is used by Gulliver in "Gulliver's Travels" (by Jonathan Swift) when he returns to England after living among the "Houyhnhnms". Gulliver can no longer stand the smell of the English Yahoos (people), so he stuffs rue or tobacco in his nose to block out the smell. "I was at last bold enough to walk the street in his (Don Pedro's) company, but kept my nose well with rue, or sometimes with tobacco".
Rue is mentioned in the Bible, Luke 11.42: "But woe unto you, Pharisees! For ye the mint and rue and all manner of herbs".
In mythology, the basilisk, whose breath could cause plants to wilt and stones to crack, had no effect on rue. Weasels who were bitten by the basilisk would retreat and eat rue in order to recover and return to fight.
Rue is considered a national herb of Lithuania and it is the most frequently referred herb in Lithuanian folk songs, as an attribute of young girls, associated with virginity and maidenhood. It was common in traditional Lithuanian weddings for only virgins to wear a rue (ruta) at their wedding, a symbol to show their purity.
Likewise, rue is prominent in the Ukrainian folklore, songs and culture. In the Ukrainian folk song "Oi poli ruta, ruta" (O, rue, rue in the field), the girl regrets losing her virginity, reproaching the lover for "breaking the green hazel tree". "Una Matica de Ruda" is a traditional Sephardic wedding song.
Chervona Ruta—a song, written by Volodymyr Ivasyuk, a popular Ukrainian poet and composer. Pop singer Sofia Rotaru performed the song in 1971. More recently Rotaru performed in a rap arrangement.

Banner of Saxony with rue./wikipedia

Brøndegaard, Dansk Etnobotanik, Folk og Flora ,bd. 2
Anemette Olesen, Danske Klosterurter, Aschehoug 2001,
Wikipedia, dansk og engelsk, 2017.

photo from wikipedia

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