What is Rue and How Do You Use It?

Herb of Grace FR: Rue Odorante

GER: Gartenraute, Raute, Weinkraut, Weinraute IT: Ruta SP: Ruda

BOT: Ruta graveolens FAM: Rutaceae

This well-known member of the old-fashioned herb garden grows wild in southern Europe and in the Middle East. It is common in poor soil beside paths and amongst the flower terraces in Italy, from whence it was introduced to Britain by the Romans. It has sometimes gone wild in the United States.

What is Rue and How Do You Use It? Photo Gallery




Rue is a small bushy plant, one to three feet high, with blue-green leaves and small yellow flowers. It is easy to recognize by the strong and, to most people, nasty smell it gives off when rubbed between the fingers. There are several horticultural varieties, grown for decoration.

In the garden, rue is easily raised from seeds, cuttings or pieces of established plants replanted. Evergreen and perennial, it prefers sun, good drainage and plenty of room

Rue is an interesting plant and has great importance in old folklore and country medicine all over Europe. Rue does in fact contain powerful medicinal substances, and these are extracted commercially. In small quantities, a leaf or two, it is a stimulant. Many people chew a leaf on a hot summer’s day, but others are allergic to it and in large quantities it is dangerous. As it is popularly thought to induce abortion, there are sometimes accidents. The word rue comes from the Greek ruta (set free) which refers to its medicinal qualities. Both the leaves and seeds of rue were frequently used as a culinary herb by the Romans and in the Middle Ages. Its taste is powerful and bitter, but in tiny quantities, atomized by chopping, it is possible to use it as an unusual flavouring with fish or eggs and in cream cheese mixtures. It is also useful in vegetable juice cocktails. But a heavy hand with rue in meat stews (I remember an old lady who had it) is quite disastrous. Some stalwarts put the young shoots in salads.

Rue was one of the flavourings used in the old herb-flavoured mead known as sack. The classic modern use is in the Italian distilled grape spirit known as grappa. The sprig of green herb one often sees in the grappa bottle, labelled Con ruta, is rue, although usually of another less bitter Mediterranean species which the Italians call ruta frangiata (BOT: Ruta chalepensis). The flavour of grappa, especially when it has rue in it is, to many people, rather nasty; at least this assures that one does not drink too much of it. The guides of Cortina d’Ampezzo often give their clients a thimbleful on the vertical face of some Dolomite needle. It greatly aids the contemplation of eternity, and the rue is appropriate.

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