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  • Jovita Turan

A Forgotten Herb for your Gardens: Rue (Ruta Graveolens L.)

by Jovita Turan, 10 May, 2020


Rue is more popularly known as "Common Rue" or "Herb of Grace" is an evergreen perennial sub-shrub which belongs to the plant family Rutaceae. The plant can grow on stony, lime soils with a warm local climate.

The root and the stem (in the lower part) are woody. The stem is erect, densely branching, 50 – 100 cm high.

The leaves are alternate, multiple, pinnate compound, bluish-green. The leaves emit a powerful, disagreeable odor and have an exceedingly bitter, acrid, and nauseous taste.

Rue flower, capsules and seeds

The greenish-yellow flowers are in terminal panicles, blossoming from June to September. The fruit is a capsule covered with glands. The seeds are three-edged, reniform, dark brown, or brownish-black.


The name Ruta is from the Greek reuo, which means ‘to set free’. It was used by the ancients, and especially it was recommended by Hippocrates.

Rue plant

Rue shrub is mentioned by writers from Pliny to Shakespeare and beyond, as an herb of remembrance, of warding and healing.

Early physicians considered rue excellent protection against plagues and pestilence and used it to ward off poisons and fleas.

Rue was once believed to improve the eyesight and creativity, and no less personages than Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci regularly ate the small, trefoil leaves to increase their own.

Historically, Rue has been used to:

  • relieve the pain associated with the physical symptoms of complaints such as gout, rheumatism, and sciatica;

  • along with alleviating the uncomfortable effects of gas and colic;

  • rue was thought to expel worms from the body;

  • used as a digestive tonic and to stimulate the appetite;

  • the herb is edible and often used in salads.

Rue has a long history of use in both medicine and magick and is considered a protective herb in both disciplines.


Rue is originating from southern Europe, northern Africa, and the Mediterranean region. The shrub established itself throughout the continent and, with the help of British and Spanish colonialism, became a favorite in cottage gardens in the West Indies, India, Mexico, and the United States.

Distribution of Rue plant

Rue's little yellow flowers and green-gray stems and leaves can be found in culinary and medicinal herb gardens, butterfly habitats, and growing on its own near roadways.

Easily grown in moderately fertile, dry to medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Plants tolerate some light shade and poor soils as long as they are sharply drained. Rue performs well in hot and dry sites.


The rue is capable of accumulating several active ingredients in its body. The largest amount among these active ingredients is represented by the flavonoids, especially rutin – 1-2 %. In leaves, we can find 0.1-0.9 % coumarins (rutaringlykosid) and furanocoumarins (psoralene, bergaptene).

The unpleasant pungent odor of the plant comes from the essential oil accumulating in the skizolizigene passages to a level of 0.3-0.7 %. This essential oil compounded from methyl-heptyl-ketone (70 %) and methyl-nonyl-ketone (20 %).

In rue, we can find toxic alkaloids, involving acridone alkaloids, additionally to the 0.2 % quinoline and furano quinoline.

Blending: It blends well with the essential oils of Bay, Benzoin, Chamomile, Fennel, Frankincense, Myrrh, Thyme, Pennyroyal, and Wormwood.


Anti-fungal: These properties help treat fungal infections like dermatitis, skin de-complexion, athletes’ foot, and other fungal infections. If prone to fungal infections, especially athletes’ foot, you can apply rue before putting on your footwear.

The antidote to Poison: Rue is a poisonous herb and an antidote for other poisons. It is effective on neurotoxins and ineffective in hemotoxins. It induces vomiting in case of poisoning. Rue can also be used in the case of a snake bite (cobra), which has neurotoxic venom, and against insect bites and stings.

Antispasmodic: Rue has calming and relaxing effects thus used as a remedy for anxiety, muscle pain, and menstrual cramps.

It also helps relax the brain and nervous system, therefore, improving the quality of life of the individual. These properties work similarly to anti-anxiety medications.

Anti-bacterial: The toxic nature of Rue essential oil is effective in killing bacteria and preventing bacterial infections. It can help you get rid of food poisoning by bacteria like salmonella, bacterial infections in the colon, intestines, and urinary tract, as well as those on the skin.

Insecticidal: Rue herb kills and drives insects away. It is poisonous to insects thus used in fumigants, vaporizers, incense sticks, and burners to ward off insects.

Anti-Arthritic & Anti-Rheumatic: It is effective in reducing pain in the joints associated with arthritis and rheumatism due to de-sensitizing and numbing effects, which work in a similar way to an anesthetic.

Nervous Sedative: Rue herb sedative properties are effective in calming epileptic and hysterical attacks. Rue oil contains neurotoxins, which induce numbness. This relaxes and desensitizes the nerves making the patient tranquilized.

Digestive: Although it is not known to promote digestion, it can help to relieve indigestion, particularly digestive issues that result from bacterial infections or activities.

Anti-epileptic & Anti-hysteric: Being a nervous sedative, it is very effective in countering epileptic and hysteric attacks. The neurotoxins in this oil induce numbness in the nerves and make them completely relaxed and de-sensitized, thereby making the patient calm, inactive, and tranquilized.

Other Benefits: It can be used as a disinfectant and in the treatment of boils and warts, as well as swelling that results from insect bites and stings.


Used in a large amounts rue causes side effects like:

  • mood changes;

  • rash;

  • increased sensitivity to sun;

  • stomach irritation;

  • dizziness;

  • sleep problems;

  • spasms;

  • liver and kidney damage.

Although added in foods and used as a medicine, individuals with the following conditions should avoid rue:

  • Pregnant, breastfeeding women and children;

  • Individuals suffering from urinary tract problems, kidney or liver problems (Rue can irritate these body parts making your problems worse);

  • Individuals with stomach and intestinal problems.


Soil preparation

Soil preparation is done in autumn or at the end of the summer, it depends on the time of planting.

  • Firstly there should be well soil drainage (to avoid standing water);

  • Planting areas should be cleaned from weeds;

  • 7 to 10 days before planting, 15-20 t/ha of manure, 50-60 kg/ha of P2O2 and 40-50 kg/ha of K2O active material in the form of fertilizers should be added and worked into the planting site (to improve fertility and increase water retention and drainage);

  • If soil composition is weak, a layer of topsoil should be considered as well. No matter if your soil is sand or clay, it can be improved by adding the same thing: organic matter.

Sowing and planting

Rue is cultivated mostly by seedling growing. For the planting at the end of the summer or in the autumn, the seeds may be sown from the beginning of April to the end of May and for the spring planting, the seeds should be sown in July or August.

  • Surface sow at 1.5 mm deep in trays;

  • The seeds can not be covered (they need light for germination).

  • The soil should be moist but not wet;

  • It is better to seal inside a polythene bag until germination (usually takes 5 to 21 days) at 20*C.

The seedlings necessary for planting 1 ha can be grown on an area of 200-250 m2 with the use of 1-1,5 kg of sowing seed.

20 – 25 cm height, well-developed seedlings are suitable for planting. It is the best when planting is done with 60 x 20 cm or with 50 x 30 cm row and plant distances. The optimum number of plants is 70 000-90 000 on 1 ha. Rows and seedling planting can be done with machines. If the soil is dry it is necessary to water the field after planting.


The care of RUTA consists of a few factors:

  • Weed killing: it can be destroyed mechanical (with cultivators) or by use of herbicides (Hungazin DT containing Aktikon can be applied from the second year, before the beginning of vegetation).

  • Watering: when the weather is dry, watering might be necessary.

  • Nutrient supply.


After planting, the soil should be replenished with the nutrients regularly. In the autumn the best is a supply of 30-40 kg/ha of P2O2 and 20-25 kg/ha of K2O and in the spring (before sprouting) – 40-50 kg/ha of N active material.

After the first cutting, it is advisable to spread nitrogen fertilizer.


Rue is cultivated when it is one year old for the vegetative part. The optimum time for harvesting rue is the end of June – beginning of July. Rue can be harvested repeatedly in October because after the first harvesting plant starts to develop shoots and flowers again.

Harvesting can be done by hand or with a windrowing machine, when the plant is cut 12-15 cm from the ground, just above the lignified part.

Dry Rue herb

After the cut, plants can be left in the windrows for drying, then windrow gathering machines pick up them. The cut plants should be immediately transported to artificial driers if the second harvest in autumn is planned. The average yield of rue in productive years is 3.5-4.0 t/ha of dry herb.


  • Cultivation and processing of medicinal plants, edited by L. Hornok, John Wiley, Chichester, 1992. ISBN 0–471–923883–4







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