Called Herb-of-Grace, this plant with ancient Mediterranean origins gets its genus name from the Greek reu, meaning to set free. Rue's reputation for effectiveness against disease is legend and the ancients believed it resisted all poisons. During the Middle Ages, rue was carried as protection against the Plague.
The hardy evergreen shrub is mentioned by writers from Pliny to Shakespeare, referred to as an herb of remembrance, of protection and of healing. Believed to improve the eyesight and to enhance creativity, both Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were said to regularly eat the small, trefoil leaves for these purposes.
Our European and African grandmothers sometimes drank rue teas as a uterine tonic, usually combined with other more palatable herbs like red raspberry or chamomile. An effective after-birth tonic, 5-10 drops of fresh rue tincture also helps relieve menstrual cramping and promotes the flow of blood through the female reproductive organs. The Chinese use tincture of rue as a sedative, to ease rheumatic pain, to increase local circulation and to reduce swelling.
In Southern Italia, tiny bits of a’ruta are eaten in salads or crushed into dressings or sandwiches, as a prophylactic measure against disease and parasitic infestations, and also because of its action as a digestive bitter. Rue is appreciated as a potent antispasmodic, an emmenagogue and for its strong analgesic properties. It is traditionally infused in olive oil and applied topically as a rub for sore muscles and to relieve aches and pains. The leaves of rue and fruits of Capsicum annuum are typically simmered together in olive oil and this preparation is applied topically as an effective antirheumatic agent.
We consider rue a powerful herb of protection and a sprig is traditionally carried in a small bag or worn around the neck for this purpose, often combined with a clove of garlic or a pinch of salt. It has long been used to sprinkle holy water and as an integral element in sacred ceremony.
Rue is a strong emetic. More than 15 drops of fresh plant tincture induces vomiting. Externally, rue is indeed stimulating, antispasmodic and a rubefacient. Massage with warmed infused oil of fresh rue leaves to soothe and relieve sciatic nerve pain, to relax strained muscles, nervous spasms and neuralgia. A liniment made from fresh rue leaves is also effective, especially if you add a bit of cayenne pepper like my neighbors in the village do!
Flower Essence Rue has a strong connection to the light, and the flower essence helps link our consciousness to higher realms.
Magical Lore In the magical realms, rue is an herb of protection and a visionary herb with a powerful presence. Rue speaks the secrets of spirit, magic and mystery. Old wives say hanging a small bunch of rue in the kitchen brings a benevolent spirit to the hearth. As a strewing herb, rue protects and enhances healing and prayer sessions. Rue is in one of my favorite magical recipes: The Happy Home Magic Bag.
Happy Home Magic Bag Make a small bag out of a favorite material, red is traditional. Place inside: a bit of rue, a morsel of bread, ash from your hearth and something from each family member (a lock of hair, a baby tooth or a nail clipping). Hang the bag in your home to help keep each member of your family well protected, happy, healthy, harmonious, prosperous and together.
One of the most ancient and potent healing and protective charms worn in Southern Italian culture is called the cimaruta, which is made of silver - metal of the goddess Diana, shaped to represent three branches of rue. Arcane symbols sprout from the tips of the three rue branches: a waxing crescent moon, a key, a vervain flower, a sacred heart and a fish. The symbolism contained within the cimaruta is a blend of symbols taken from Pagan, Catholic and peasant folk magic, all of which reflect the traditional folk spirituality of Southern Italia perfectly. The sacred heart, the fish and the triform nature of the branch are all Catholic symbols, representing the Trinity. In earlier times the triple branch represented the triple goddess - maiden, mother and crone. The key and the crescent moon represent Hecate and Diana, two Goddesses especially beloved by the Southern Italic tribes, and associated with healing and magic. Rue itself is a powerful protector against malevolent forces in Italian herbal lore as are vervain flowers, which are believed to attract good fortune. The cimaruta falls under the category of portafortuna, literally door of good fortune or “lucky charm,” a term that can be used broadly to describe practically any amulet or talisman.
Culture Rue is a hardy evergreen perennial, native to Italia and Southern Europe. It likes a generally sunny spot in any average garden soil. Rue can grow to be quite large and lush. The plants have a unique yellow-green color, with small bright yellow fringed flowers with protruding stamens, somewhat star-like, and held up high on two-foot high stems. To say rue's strong, bitter, acrid aroma is intense is a vivid understatement. At Blessed Maine, we start rue seeds inside in early spring and transplant into the garden when the weather is warm six to eight weeks later. The rue plant in my Italian village garden stays green, lush and vibrant all through the year. I gather rue leaves whenever they are vibrant, but before the little yellow flowers appear. I tincture fresh rue leaves in alcohol or rubbing alcohol, and infuse them in oil. I dry rue leaves on screens, or hang sprigs in small bunches here and there.
WARNING! Rue is a strong emmenagogue and an abortifacient and should never be used during pregnancy.
"Menstrual blood is special because it carries in it a living being. It works like a tree. Before bearing fruit, a tree must first bear flowers. Menstrual blood is like the flower: it must emerge before the fruit, the baby, can be born." Trota de Ruggerio