Looking at the feathery, bluish-green leaves and umbel-like flowers of this herb one would swear to have made the acquaintance of a type of Artemisia, a member of the compositae family. But appearances can be deceptive; Rue, in fact, belongs to the Rutaceae, which denotes it as a distant relative of citrus trees. It is at home in the eastern Mediterranean and appears to have been in cultivation for at least a thousand years. According to the bible, it was tithed in biblical times, a distinction reserved exclusively for cultivated garden plants. In the days of antiquity Rue apparently enjoyed great popularity, despite its rather bitter and not exactly pleasant flavour. It seemed to have played a significant role as a culinary herb, especially in Roman cuisine. Today its culinary use has all but disappeared, though one might occasionally happen upon a dish spiced with it when travelling in Ethiopia, where it is even sometimes added as coffee spice. Here and there it may also still be used in remote cuisines of Italy. It must be said though, that for culinary purposes the fresh herb is preferable since most the essential oils disappear on drying, leaving mostly the bitter taste, rather than the more subtle aromatic component. Even the fresh leaves should only be used sparingly and should be removed after a few minutes. If left simmering too long the sauce or stew will turn bitter. The ancients also praised Rue for its medicinal and magical uses. One of its alternative common names is 'Herb of Grace', which indicates its use as a sacred herb, which has been adapted by Christianity. Ancient writers report it being used to sprinkle holy water throughout the church to purify it. Rue does indeed seem to have purifying and protective powers, not just against spirit entities but also against the demons of disease. During the time of the plague, four unscrupulous thieves took advantage of the most helpless people - the dead and dying pest victims. They were protected from falling prey to the Black Death themselves by the power of a special herbal concoction, which became known as 'vinegar of the four thieves'. When they were finally caught the secret of their vinegar saved their lives yet again. Rue was part of the blend. Although modern herbalists don't pay too much attention to it, the ancients valued it highly for its power to resist all manner of poisons.
Although it receives but scant attention from modern practitioners, Rue possesses several interesting actions. Firstly, it has a very pronounced effect on the womb and thus should never be used during pregnancy. Before abortions became a legal and safe option Rue was used for this purpose. But it also tones the muscles of the womb and regulates suppressed menses, especially when associated with tension. It is insect repellent and anthelmintic and will get rid of worms. The ancients deemed it effective against all manner of poisons and used it as an antidote against the venomous bites of various creatures or any other hidden toxins lurking in the depth of their stomachs. Rue was also said to protect the eyesight. Pliny reports that it was greatly valued for this purpose by artists, who ate the herb in the hope that it would impart clarity and vision. Rue can be used as eyewash, which is said to be particularly helpful in cases of eyestrain, where the musculature has become exhausted. It is used both, internally and externally for sprains and strains, as well as for rheumatic pains. The ancients used it in cases of dizziness, hysteria and epilepsy. Do not use during pregnancy.
The ancients revered Rue highly for its powerful protective properties. It was said to be able to ward off even the devil himself. Rue could protect against the evil eye and against the demons of disease. It was used to clear the third eye and enhance inner vision. It may protect against nightmares and may be used to safeguard astral journeys. It can also be used for cleansing or consecrating a sacred space or ritual tools.
Not all herbs are suitable in pregnancy, breastfeeding or for young children, or if you are unwell, or taking any medication. If in doubt, please ask a medical herbalist or healthcare practitioner.