Rue is such an unassuming little plant. Pretty, but not flashy
like a Pineapple Sage or tasty like a
French Tarragon or even fragrant like a
Butterfly Bush. Like many Mediterranean plants, Rue has Biblical connections.
But even those are not too exciting. It is mentioned only once in the Bible as
an herb to be tithed.
“But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue
and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought
ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” Luke 11:42.
Harold Moldenke, in Plants of the Bible, points out that
plants that were cultivated in gardens were subject to being taxed or
tithed. And, since in the Old Testament Rue is not taxed, it may be that
even though it was used in the kitchen, it was cultivated from the wild. In which case, it may have
been the more common African Rue or Ruta chalpensis that was being used. By Jesus's time,
Rue was being cultivated and taxed; and since Ruta graveolens was not as prevalent
in the wild, it is thought that this may be Rue of New Testament Gardens.
Throughout history, Rue has been used for everything from
flavoring cheese to driving out evil spirits. Yet, no one use seemed to really
catch on. Shakespeare called Rue the ' herb of grace' and a short time later it
became associated with repentance, (rue the day) as sprigs of rue were used to sprinkle holy
water in early Christian rituals.
Rue is one of the ingredients used in the
Vinegar of Four Thieves. The four thieves were a family of perfumers (who
knew their herbs) who robbed the dead during the Black Plague. As the tale
goes, they were protected by this antiseptic concoction of Vinegar and
Herbs. It was probably more the antiseptic qualities of the other herbs,
Rosemary, Lavender, Sage and Mint that actually gave the vinegar its
punch. But, the pungent aroma of the Rue must have added that odor of
truth to the mix. Indeed, the species name graveolens means strong
Today, there is early research which indicates that
a photochemical found in rue, may help to inhibit tumor formation on the skin
and yet skin allergies due to brushing against Rue in the garden on sunny days are very common.
Why sunny days? Rue is classified as a photosensitizer which means the sun
is necessary for the skin to be bothered.
Rue's silvery gray leaves are very ornamental in the garden.
Not too fussy about its growing conditions, Rue reaches about two feet when in
bloom with its little yellow star-crossed flowers.