Ruta graveolens

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Common rue
Die Weinraute, lat. Ruta graveolens, Pflanze mit den gelben Blüten.jpg
Common rue in flower
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Rutaceae
Genus: Ruta
R. graveolens
Binomial name
Ruta graveolens
Ruta graveolens distribution.svg

Ruta graveolens, commonly known as rue, common rue or herb-of-grace, is a species of Ruta grown as an ornamental plant and herb. It is native to the Balkan Peninsula. It is now grown throughout the world in gardens, especially for its bluish leaves, and sometimes for its tolerance of hot and dry soil conditions. It is also cultivated as a medicinal herb (famous in Ethiopia and Eritrea, where its local name is ጤና አዳም: "Tena adam"/Health for Adam), as a culinary herb, and to a lesser extent as an insect repellent and incense.


The specific epithet graveolens refers to the strong-smelling leaves.[1]


Traditional use[edit]

In the ancient Roman world, the naturalists Pedanius Dioscorides and Pliny the Elder recommended that rue be combined with the poisonous shrub oleander to be drunk as an antidote to venomous snake bites.[2][3]

Illustration in the Tacuinum Sanitatis

The Tacuinum Sanitatis, a medieval handbook on wellness, lists these properties of rue:

  • Nature: Warm and dry in the third degree.
  • Optimum: That which is grown near a fig tree.
  • Usefulness: It sharpens the eyesight and dissipates flatulence.
  • Dangers: It augments the sperm and dampens the desire for coitus.
  • Neutralization of the Dangers: With foods that multiply the sperm.

The refined oil of rue is an emmenagogue[4] and was cited by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder and the gynecologist Soranus as a potent abortifacient (inducing abortion).[5][6]

A "crown of rue" or crancelin on the heraldic banner of Saxony

Culinary use[edit]

Capsule and seed - MHNT
Ruta "Tena Adam" in coffee in Ethiopia

Rue has a culinary use, but since it is bitter and gastric discomfort may be experienced by some individuals, it is used sparingly. Although used more extensively in former times, it is not a herb that is typically found in modern cuisine. Today it is largely unknown to the general public and most chefs, and unavailable in grocery stores in most countries.[7] It is a component of berbere, the characteristic Ethiopian-Eritrean spice mixture, and as such is encountered in their cuisine. Also in Ethiopia, fresh rue is dipped in coffee before drinking it. Due to small amounts of toxins it contains, it must be used in small amounts, and should be avoided by those who are pregnant or who have liver issues. Skin contact with the herb's juices are also highly advised against, due to its ability to burn the skin when it comes into contact with sunlight.

It has a variety of other culinary uses:

  • It was used extensively in ancient Near Eastern and Roman cuisine (according to Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq and Apicius).
  • Rue is used as a traditional flavouring in Greece and other Mediterranean countries.[1]
  • In Istria (a region spanning Croatia and Slovenia), and in Northern Italy, it is used to give a special flavour to grappa/raki and most of the time a little branch of the plant can be found in the bottle. This is called grappa alla ruta.
  • Seeds can be used for porridge.
  • The bitter leaf can be added to eggs, cheese, fish, or mixed with damson plums and wine to produce a meat sauce.
  • In Italy in Friuli Venezia-Giulia, the young branches of the plant are dipped in a batter, deep-fried in oil, and consumed with salt or sugar. They are also used on their own to aromatise a specific type of omelette.[8]
  • Used in Old World beers as flavouring ingredient.[9]


Rue is also grown as an ornamental plant, both as a low hedge and so the leaves can be used in nosegays.

Most cats dislike the smell of it, and it can, therefore, be used as a deterrent to them (see also Plectranthus caninus).[citation needed]

Caterpillars of some subspecies of the butterfly Papilio machaon feed on rue, as well as other plants. The caterpillars of Papilio xuthus also feed readily on it.[10]

In South India, rue is recommended for home gardens to repel snakes (however the effectiveness is unknown).

Rue is also a common ingredient in witchcraft and spell making.[clarification needed] During the Middle Ages it was a symbol of recognition between witches.[clarification needed] The Catholic Church also used a branch of rue to sprinkle holy water on its followers: during this time it was known as the "herb of grace".

Hasidic Jews also were taught that rue should be placed into amulets to protect them from epidemics and plagues.[11] Other Hasidim rely on the works of a famous Baghdadi Kabbalist Yaakov Chaim Sofer who makes mention of the plant "ruda" (רודה) as an effective device against both black magic and the evil eye.[12]

It finds many household uses around the world as well. It is traditionally used in Central Asia as an insect repellent and room deodorizer.[clarification needed]

Effect of the common rue on skin in sunny weather


Rue is generally safe if consumed in small amounts as an herb to flavor food. Rue extracts are mutagenic and hepatotoxic.[4] Large doses can cause violent gastric pain, vomiting, liver damage, and death.[4] This is due to a variety of toxic compounds in the plant's sap. It is recommended to only use small amounts in food, and to not consume it excessively. It should be strictly avoided by pregnant women, as it can be an abortifacient and teratogen.

Exposure to common rue, or herbal preparations derived from it, can cause severe phytophotodermatitis, which results in burn-like blisters on the skin.[13][14][15][16]


R. graveolens essential oil in a clear glass vial

A series of furanoacridones and two acridone alkaloids (arborinine and evoxanthine) have been isolated from R. graveolens.[17] It also contains coumarins and limonoids.[18]

Cell cultures produce the coumarins umbelliferone, scopoletin, psoralen, xanthotoxin, isopimpinellin, rutamarin and rutacultin, and the alkaloids skimmianine, kokusaginine, 6-methoxydictamnine and edulinine.[19]

The ethyl acetate extract of R. graveolens leaves yields two furanocoumarins, one quinoline alkaloid and four quinolone alkaloids.[20][21]

The chloroform extracts of the root, stem and leaf shows the isolation of the furanocoumarin chalepensin.[22]

The essential oil of R. graveolens contains two main constituents, undecan-2-one (46.8%) and nonan-2-one (18.8%).[23]


The bitter taste of its leaves led to rue being associated with the (etymologically unrelated) verb rue "to regret". Rue is well known for its symbolic meaning of regret and it has sometimes been called "herb-of-grace" in literary works. In mythology,[24] the basilisk, whose breath could cause plants to wilt and stones to crack, had no effect on rue. Weasels who were bitten by the basilisk would retreat and eat rue in order to recover and return to fight.

In the Bible[edit]

Rue is mentioned in the Bible, Luke 11:42:

"But woe unto you, Pharisees! For ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs".

In Lithuania[edit]

Rue is considered a national herb of Lithuania and it is the most frequently referenced herb in Lithuanian folk songs, as an attribute of young girls, associated with virginity and maidenhood. It was common in traditional Lithuanian weddings for only virgins to wear a rue (Lithuanian: rūta) at their wedding, a symbol to show their purity.

In Ukraine[edit]

Likewise, rue is prominent in Ukrainian folklore, songs and culture. In the Ukrainian folk song "Oi poli ruta, ruta" (O, rue, rue in the field), the girl regrets losing her virginity, reproaching the lover for "breaking the green hazel tree".[25] "Chervona Ruta" (Червона Рута—"Red Rue") is a song, written by Volodymyr Ivasyuk, a popular Ukrainian poet and composer. Pop singer Sofia Rotaru performed the song in 1971.

In Jewish culture[edit]

"Una Matica de Ruda" is a traditional Sephardic wedding song.

In English literature[edit]

It is one of the flowers distributed by the mad Ophelia in William Shakespeare's Hamlet (IV.5):

"There's fennel for you, and columbines:
there's rue for you; and here's some for me:
we may call it herb-grace o' Sundays:
O you must wear your rue with a difference..."

It was planted by the gardener in Richard II to mark the spot where the Queen wept upon hearing news of Richard's capture (III.4.104–105):

"Here did she fall a tear, here in this place
I'll set a bank of rue, sour herb of grace."

It is also given by the rusticated Perdita to her disguised royal father-in-law on the occasion of a sheep-shearing (Winter's Tale, IV.4):

"For you there's rosemary and rue; these keep
Seeming and savour all the winter long."

It is used by Michael in Milton's Paradise Lost to give Adam clear sight (11.414):

"Then purg'd with euphrasy and rue
The visual nerve, for he had much to see."

Rue is used by Gulliver in Gulliver's Travels (by Jonathan Swift) when he returns to England after living among the "Houyhnhnms". Gulliver can no longer stand the smell of the English Yahoos (people), so he stuffs rue or tobacco in his nose to block out the smell.

"I was at last bold enough to walk the street in his (Don Pedro's) company, but kept my nose well with rue, or sometimes with tobacco".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b J. D. Douglas and Merrill C. Tenney Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 1150, at Google Books
  2. ^ Pliny the Elder. Natural History Book. p. Book 24, 90.
  3. ^ Pedanius Dioscorides. De Materia Medica. p. Book V, 42.
  4. ^ a b c "Rue".
  5. ^ Natural History Book XX Ch LI[full citation needed]
  6. ^ Nelson, Sarah E. (2009). "Persephone's Seeds: Abortifacients and Contraceptives in Ancient Greek Medicine and Their Recent Scientific Appraisal". Pharmacy in History. 51 (2): 57–69. JSTOR 41112420. PMID 20853553.
  7. ^ "Rue (Ruta graveolens L.)".
  8. ^ Ghirardini, Maria; Carli, Marco; Del Vecchio, Nicola; Rovati, Ariele; Cova, Ottavia; Valigi, Francesco; Agnetti, Gaia; MacConi, Martina; Adamo, Daniela; et al. (2007). "The importance of a taste. A comparative study on wild food plant consumption in twenty-one local communities in Italy". Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 3: 22. doi:10.1186/1746-4269-3-22. PMC 1877798. PMID 17480214.
  9. ^ Spencer Hornsey, Ian (December 2003). "Chapter 3". A History of Beer and Brewing. Royal Society of Chemistry. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-854-04630-0.
  10. ^ Dempster, J.P. (1995). "The ecology and conservation of Papilio machaon in Britain". In Pullin, Andrew S. (ed.). Ecology and Conservation of Butterflies (1st ed.). London: Chapman & Hall. pp. 137–149. ISBN 0412569701.
  11. ^ This was taught by Rabbi Isaac of Komarno in his comments to Sefer Adam Yashar in the name of Rabbi Isaac Luria
  12. ^[full citation needed]
  13. ^ Arias-Santiago, SA; Fernández-Pugnaire, MA; Almazán-Fernández, FM; Serrano-Falcón, C; Serrano-Ortega, S (2009). "Phytophotodermatitis due to Ruta graveolens prescribed for fibromyalgia". Rheumatology (Oxford, England). 48 (11): 1401. doi:10.1093/rheumatology/kep234. PMID 19671699.
  14. ^ Furniss, D; Adams, T (2007). "Herb of grace: An unusual cause of phytophotodermatitis mimicking burn injury". Journal of Burn Care & Research. 28 (5): 767–769. doi:10.1097/BCR.0B013E318148CB82. PMID 17667834.
  15. ^ Eickhorst, K; Deleo, V; Csaposs, J (2007). "Rue the herb: Ruta graveolens–associated phytophototoxicity". Dermatitis. 18 (1): 52–55. doi:10.2310/6620.2007.06033. PMID 17303046.
  16. ^ Wessner, D; Hofmann, H; Ring, J (1999). "Phytophotodermatitis due to Ruta graveolens applied as protection against evil spells". Contact Dermatitis. 41 (4): 232. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0536.1999.tb06145.x. PMID 10515113. S2CID 45280728.
  17. ^ Rethy, Borbala; Zupko, Istvan; Minorics, Renata; Hohmann, Judit; Ocsovszki, Imre; Falkay, George (2007). "Investigation of cytotoxic activity on human cancer cell lines of arborinine and furanoacridones isolated from Ruta graveolens". Planta Medica. 73 (1): 41–48. doi:10.1055/s-2006-951747. PMID 17109253. INIST:18469419
  18. ^ Srivastava, S. D.; Srivastava, S. K.; Halwe, K. (1998). "New coumarins and limonoids of Ruta graveolens". Fitoterapia. 69 (1): 7–12. INIST:2179664
  19. ^ Steck, Warren; Bailey, B.K.; Shyluk, J.P.; Gamborg, O.L. (1971). "Coumarins and alkaloids from cell cultures of Ruta graveolens". Phytochemistry. 10: 191–194. doi:10.1016/S0031-9422(00)90269-3.
  20. ^ Oliva, Anna; Meepagala, Kumudini M.; Wedge, David E.; Harries, Dewayne; Hale, Amber L.; Aliotta, Giovanni; Duke, Stephen O. (2003). "Natural Fungicides from Ruta graveolens L. Leaves, Including a New Quinolone Alkaloid". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 51 (4): 890–896. doi:10.1021/jf0259361. PMID 12568545.
  21. ^ Zobel, Alicja M.; Brown, Stewart A. (1988). "Determination of Furanocoumarins on the Leaf Surface of Ruta graveolens with an Improved Extraction Technique". Journal of Natural Products. 51 (5): 941–946. doi:10.1021/np50059a021. PMID 21401190.
  22. ^ Kong, Y.; Lau, C.; Wat, K.; Ng, K.; But, P.; Cheng, K.; Waterman, P. (2007). "Antifertility Principle of Ruta graveolens". Planta Medica. 55 (2): 176–8. doi:10.1055/s-2006-961917. PMID 2748734.
  23. ^ De Feo, Vincenzo; De Simone, Francesco; Senatore, Felice (2002). "Potential allelochemicals from the essential oil of Ruta graveolens". Phytochemistry. 61 (5): 573–578. doi:10.1016/s0031-9422(02)00284-4. PMID 12409025. INIST:13994117
  24. ^ Walsh, William Shepard; Garrison, William H.; Harris, Samuel R. (5 January 1888). "American Notes and Queries". Westminster Publishing Company – via Google Books.
  25. ^ Ukrainian folk songs. Oi u poli ruta, ruta (O, rue, rue in the field). (Ukrainian)

External links[edit]