Rue Herb

Rue is a plant. The parts that grow above the ground are used to make medicine. Be careful not to confuse rue with goat’s rue (Galega officinalis) and meadow rue (Thalictrum species).

Despite serious safety concerns, rue is used as a medicine for a long list of conditions. It is used for digestion problems including loss of appetite, upset stomach, and diarrhea. It is also used for heart and circulation problems including pounding heart (heart palpitations) and “hardening of the arteries” (arteriosclerosis). Some people use rue for breathing problems including pain and coughing due to swelling around the lungs (pleurisy).

Rue is used for other painful conditions including headache, arthritis, cramps, and muscle spasms; and for nervous system problems including nervousness, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Bell’s palsy.

Other uses include treatment of fever, hemorrhage, hepatitis, “weakness of the eyes,” water retention, intestinal worm infestations, and mouth cancer. Rue is also used to kill bacteria and fungus.

Some women use rue for menstrual problems, to stimulate the uterus, and to cause an abortion.

Rue is sometimes applied directly to the skin to treat arthritis, dislocations, sprains, injuries of the bone, swollen skin, earaches, toothaches, headaches, tumors, and warts; and as an insect repellent.

Growing Rue Herb – Tips For Rue Plant Care Rue By: Heather Rhoades Printer Friendly Version Image by Quinn Dombrowski The rue herb (Ruta graveolens) is considered to be an old fashioned herb garden plant. Once grown for medicinal reasons (which studies have shown to be mostly ineffective and even dangerous), these days rue plants are rarely grown in the garden. But just because an herb has fallen out of favor for its original intent does not mean that it can’t have a place in the garden for other reasons. What is Rue Plant? While little known, growing rue herb in the garden can be helpful to a gardener in a number of ways. Its strong smell is a repellent to many creatures, including dogs, cats and Japanese beetles. Because of this, it makes an excellent companion plant. It has semi-woody growth, which means that it can be pruned into hedges. It attracts some typess of butterflies, and, last but not least, makes a lovely cut flower. For all of these reasons, it is beneficial to a gardener to learn how to grow rue. Rue plants have bluish-green, fern-like leaves that are bushy and compact. The flowers on the rue herb are yellow with petals that are frilly on the edges and the center of the flower is normally green. Rue normally grows to a height of 2 to 3 feet tall. How to Grow Rue Herb Rue herb does well in a variety of soil but does best in well drained soil. In fact, it will do well in the rocky, dry soil that many other plants have a difficult time surviving. It needs full sun to grow well. It is drought tolerant and rarely, if ever needs to be watered. Care should be taken when handling rue plants. The sap of the rue plant is often irritating and can burn or leave rashes on people’s skin. Rue can be harvested and used in the house as an insect repellent. Simply cut some of the leaves and dry them, then put the dried leaves in cloth bags. These sachets can be placed where ever you need to repel bugs.

Rue, Ruta graveolens: “Herb of Grace”

Rue is considered an old-fashioned herb; however, it is rarely grown in the garden anymore. Could the reason be that graveolens is Latin for “having a strong or offensive smell?” (Current studies report that rue can be toxic if ingested.)

Putting that aside, rue is a fascinating herb because of its long history in the medicinal world. And even though a plant loses mass appeal doesn’t mean it loses a place in the garden. Rue can be a gardener’s helper because its smell repels Japanese beetles (and may keep pets from trampling your herb garden, as well).

Please continue reading to learn more about this interesting herb.

Native to Europe, rue is a bushy evergreen shrub bearing small yellow flowers which, like the foliage, emit an off-putting odor. For centuries, harvested rue was thought to cure countless conditions: insect bites, eye strain, even warding off the plague. Those who cooked used rue for marinades and sauces, and to make green dye. The ancient Romans used the seeds of the perennial in their cooking. Rue also had a place in Catholic rituals, so it’s known as the “herb of grace” and “herb of repentance.” Both Michelangelo and Leonardo de Vince reportedly used rue to improve their eyesight and creativity.

Today rue is grown ornament ally or for use in dried flower arrangements. If you grow this herb, wear rubber gloves, long sleeves, and pants when harvesting or pruning to avoid irritating the skin with the sap (contact with its leaf oils can cause burning, blistering, and itching).

Nowadays we know that rue can be toxic when eaten in large quantities and too much can produce severe stomach cramping, so don’t try to cook with it.

Rue growing in the garden can be a gardener’s helper. Its unpleasant smell repels many creatures, including Japanese beetles, and even dogs and cats, making this herb an excellent companion plant. Also, its semi-woody growth can be pruned into nontraditional hedges around herb and rose gardens.

Cheat Sheet

  • Rue has greenish-yellow flowers with frilly edges, which attract butterflies from June to September.
  • Plant rue as a companion plant to repel insects. Rue is especially helpful grown near roses and raspberries. The dried, strong-smelling leaves also make an effective moth repellent.  Simply cut a handful of leaves, dry them, then put them in sachets and place where you need to repel bugs.
  • Rue makes a great cut flower so incorporate a few into a cutting garden.


Rue extract is potentially useful as a potassium channel blocker. It has been used to treat many intramuscular problems and to stimulate the onset of menstruation. Because rue has an antispasmodic effect at relatively low doses, it should be taken with caution. However, considering rue’s potential for severe adverse effects, clinical trials are limited.


There is no recent clinical evidence to support dosing recommendations for rue. Traditional use calls for 0.5 to 1 g of the herb daily or 65 mg of the essential oil. In larger doses, rue is an emmenagogue, an aphrodisiac, and an antiabortion, and should be considered dangerous.

Adverse Reactions

Rue extracts are mutagenic and farinaceous have been associated with photo-sensitization. If ingested, rue oil may result in kidney damage and hepatic degeneration. Large doses can cause violent gastric pain, vomiting, and systemic complications, including death. Because of possible antiabortion effects, the plant should never be ingested by women of childbearing potential. Toxic hepatitis due to Ruta has been reported.


Rue should only be taken with extreme caution. A case report describes multi-organ toxicity in a 78-year-old woman ingesting R. graveolens for cardiovascular protection. After 3 days of use, the patient entered the emergency department with bradycardia, acute renal failure with hyperglycemia necessitating hemodialysis, and coagulopathy.

What Are Rue Plants Used for?

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The rue plant (Ruta graveolens), also known as Ave-grace, garden rue and herb of grace, is part of the Rutacaea plant family. Rue is a perennial herb or small shrub with a strong odor that blooms tiny, greenish-yellow flowers and is native to Southern Europe. Rue has been used throughout history for a variety of reasons, and today it is still a useful herb to have in your garden. It’s hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 10.


Rue plant leaves have a strong, bitter taste, but they are edible. They’re typically used as a condiment to flavor various foods and as a tea. They may be used raw or dried for use as a seasoning. Rue is occasionally eaten in salads, but because of its slight toxicity, it should only be consumed this way in small quantities.

Medicinal Uses

The tops of fresh rue shoots are gathered before the plant flowers, and are used fresh or dry as a home remedy. Rue is valued for its flavonoids, particularly rutin, which strengthens blood vessels. Because of these flavonoids, rue has been used to strengthen the eyes, as an antithetical to treat parasitic worms, and as an antimalarial, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, expectorant, hemostat and stimulant. It is also used to induce vomiting and relieve gas. In large doses, however, rue can be toxic, and it should never be used by women who are pregnant or nursing. To treat coughs and stomach issues such as flatulence, it is given as an infusion. The juice of the rue plant has also been used to treat earaches.

Pesticide and Repellent

Whether growing or dried, rue plants are useful for repelling insects, and can be grown as a companion plant for roses and raspberries. The dried leaves are also an effective moth repellent. In the garden, rue may be planted near valuable plants to repel cats as well. When mixed as a decoration, rue can be used topically to kill lice and fly larvae.


Rue plant oils have a distinct, strong odor. These oils are extracted from the leaves, and are used in a range of cosmetics, fragrance products and soaps. Rue plants are also used to make a red dye.


Rue is toxic when ingested in large doses, and should be taken to treat medical problems only under the approval and supervision of a physician. Rue has abortive properties that may result in hemorrhaging and miscarriages, so it should not be ingested by pregnant women. Wear protective gloves when handling rue plants. The plant juices contain furanocoumarins, which sensitizes the skin to light and can cause dermatitis or blisters. Rue’s mild toxicity can cause mood changes, sleep disorders, fatigue, dizziness, spasms, fainting, bradycardia, tongue swelling, clammy skin and pho-toxicity. Dry rue can also produce side effects, but they tend to be milder than those caused by fresh rue. If leaves are ingested in doses of more than 120 milligrams, or more than 1/2 cup of oil, rue can cause vomiting, severe abdominal pain and sometimes death. In doses of this size, fresh rue can cause severe kidney and liver damage as well.

In ancient times, rue was an important culinary and medicinal herb. It’s mentioned in the Bible by its Greek name, “peg-anon.” Rue was a common cooking herb for the Romans and commonly used in a spicy seasoning paste that contained garlic, hard cheese, coriander, and celery seeds with rue leaves. The botanical, Latin name of “Ruta” comes from Greek, translated as “to set free,” referring to its use as a chief ingredient in mixtures used as antidotes to poisoning. 

Rue was also used as a strewing herb, fresh sprigs of the herb scattered on floors in the belief it would keep away the plague. It was a common herb believed to keep away witches, and that folk use evolved into the Catholic Church’s practice of dipping branches of rue into Holy water and sprinkling it over the heads of parishioners as a blessing, which earned it a common name for the plant of “herb of grace.” 

Rue’s Use Today

Rue has fallen out of use in today’s cooking primarily because our taste preferences have changed. In the past, the use of an herb that imparted a bitter undertone to a dish, balancing the sweet, sour, salty, and hot flavors was important, but it is less so today.

Occasionally you’ll still find rue used in Italian dishes, mostly among Old Italian families that have passed down recipes through generations of cooks.

It’s most commonly used today in Ethiopia as both a cooking herb and an addition to coffee. I met a woman from Ethiopia last year at the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, Calif. Her booth was across the aisle from mine, and she and I started talking herbs and cooking. She inquired whether I grew rue and when I said I did but never use it, she told me how her family used it when she was growing up. She explained that rue, both the leaf and the seed, are an important addition to brewing a pot of traditional Ethiopian coffee. Since I like my coffee straight and black, with no frills, I was dubious. To prove her point, the following day, she brought a thermos of fresh coffee made with rue leaves and seed. It was outstanding, and I am now a devotee of Ethiopian coffee flavored with rue!

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