Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Rue the Day

Rue, the herb, is planted in my garden for one reason:  It is the butterfly host or larval food plant for the Giant Swallowtail and Eastern Black Swallowtail.  Since planting this one little herb, I’ve had an abundance of these beauties every year.  

Ruta graveolens or Common Rue is called “Herb of Grace” by all historical accounts.  William Shakespeare wrote in “Richard II” a gardener plants rue to mark the spot where the Queen wept upon hearing news of Richard’s capture:  “Here did she fall a tear, here in this place - I’ll set a bank of rue, sour herb of grace.” He included the herb in several other poems. 

It’s mentioned in the Bible in Luke 7:42 saying rue should be tithed.  In Jesus’ time it was cultivated and taxed.  It’s in the national song of Lithuania, in mythology and is used in concoctions in many novels.  It is found in witchcraft as a preventative against magic.  It was at one time used by the Catholic Church in their holy water ceremony.

It’s not that rue isn’t a pretty little plant; its blue-green foliage is very pretty as a small bush.  My plant seldom gets more than a foot high and wide.  Others may reach 3 ft.  It has fringed little yellow flowers. 

The foliage has a small downside.  It has a strong unpleasant scent when crushed.  For this reason, it is considered deer and rabbit resistant and has been used as a dog, cat and insect repellant.  It is said it’s the model for the suit of clubs in playing cards.

The herbaceous evergreen is rated for Zone 4, likes sun and is pretty drought resistant once established.  It prefers poor soil and may rot in soggy soil. It prefers to have some winter shelter such as a wind block of higher bushes or plants.

Its bitter leaves were used in ancient Rome and in Middle Eastern cuisine.  Caution should be used when handling as some people are so sensitive they get blisters from the leaf oil.  It is still used in the Italian wine “Grappa”.

It has been used for medicinal and homeopathy cures for thousands of years.  Caution should be used since ingesting could cause violent stomach pain, vomiting and convulsions.  It’s still a very popular plant with Herbalists and used for a wide range of cures.  Pregnant women should NEVER ingest any part of the plant.  It was used in so many cures; I don’t have room to mention them all.  If you enjoy that sort of thing, read “Gerard’s Herbal.”

Our Saxon friends might be interested in knowing the Saxony Rue has given its name to an order:  A chaplet of Rue.

If you plant rue to attract butterflies, don’t use insecticides in your garden.  Don’t plant if you have a child who may pick leaves and flowers.  Otherwise, plant one – plant several.  Rue your day – in a nice way!  (Photos are from open web access pages) 

Side note:  Have a peaceful and loving Thanksgiving. 


  1. Rue is also supposed to be a flea deterrent, and is used in dog bedding.

  2. Thanks for the additional information. Rue would be a pretty inexpensive way to deal with fleas in dog bedding. Use caution in exposing the plant directly to the dog's skin in case it's sensitive to the oils. Perhaps make a small packet in an old dish towel and place under the dogs covers? Thanks again. Diane