Rue, also known as herb-of-grace and, less commonly, witchbane, is a low-growing shrubby evergreen perennial herb native to Southern Europe. Rue’s interesting bluish leaves and tolerance for dry, sandy soils makes it popular in ornamental gardens in the past, though it has experienced a decline in recent decades. Rue is hardy in zones 4 through 8. It has a mounding habit and can reach a height of up to 3 feet with a similar spread. Leaves, which appear opposite off woody stems, are blue-green or grey-green and deeply divided into ovulate leaflets. The dull yellow flowers appear in flattened corymb clusters on stalks above the foliage in June and July. This plant is highly fragrant (though perhaps not particularly pleasant), especially when crushed- but take care, as it can cause photodermatitis.
Growing Rue in the Garden
Rue can easily be started indoors or directly in the garden once temperatures are reliably above 65 degrees Fahrenheit at night. The seeds need light to germinate, so should be sprinkled atop the soil and not covered. They will germinate and grow quickly. Rue does well in part shade or full sun and thrives in poor soils, so it makes a good plant to try in those areas of the yard where nothing else will grow, provided those areas at least have good drainage.
If you are growing rue for culinary use, it is best to cut off the flower heads as they appear as the plant will become even more bitter once the flowers bloom. Be sure to wear gloves when handling rue as the sap can cause photodermatitis, that is, an uncomfortable rash triggered by sunlight.
Rue can be planted around garden beds to deter pests, but it is said that mint and sage do not do as well in the presence of rue.
Cats are said to dislike the smell of rue, so growing some around your garden may discourage cats from messing with it.
Healing with Rue
Historically, rue has been used to treat various poisoning- probably through induction of vomiting, and to trigger menstruation- thus it should never be used by pregnant women who hope to stay pregnant as it has a history of use as both an abortifacient and for inducing or speeding up labor. Long-term use of rue can lead to photosensitivity and some people may experience contact dermatitis from handling it.
Pliny was fond of rue and mentioned it often. He recommended it to artists to ease eye strain and improve eyesight.
Cooking with Rue
Rue is a traditional season in ancient Roman, Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. Rue is quite bitter and sufficient amounts cause vomiting, so, only very small amounts are used. Rue pairs well with meat, eggs and cheese and acidic flavors. To get the best flavor, allow rue to simmer in the hot cooking liquid near the end of the cooking time to allow its oils to release into the food and then discard the herb itself before serving. Rue is also used to flavor beer and liquors.
Magickal Properties of Rue
Rue corresponds to the element fire and the planet Saturn or perhaps Mars. Rue is sacred to Mars, Diana and Aradia.
Rue has a long history of use as a cleansing herb. Rue was once tied in bunches and used to asperge people and areas with holy water in churches. It is also purported to be one of the ingredients in Thieves Vinegar, used to ward off the Black Plague and was hung over doorways and windows to keep out evil spirits, and rubbed on the floors to keep out pests. Today, rue is worn in or placed over the doorway to protect from the evil eye and you can even get a little rue-shaped talisman called a cimaruta to serve this purpose more fashionably. Rue can be used in a variety of ways for banishing and warding to protect from disease and other negative influences.
Rue also has a history of being used for cursing, though I do not have a lot of detail on this.
Rue may be placed over the third eye to assist with developing second sight and encourage psychic abilities.