rue, common name for various members of the family Rutaceae, a large group of plants distributed throughout temperate and tropical regions and most abundant in S Africa and Australia. Most species are woody shrubs or small trees; many are evergreen and bear spines. The family is characterized by the presence of glands producing an essential oil, and the foliage, fruits, and flowers are noticeably aromatic and fragrant. The aromatic principle is widely utilized for flavorings, perfume oils, and medicines. Chief in importance are the citrus fruits, source of numerous extracted oils but best known as a major tropical-fruit industry, rivaled only by the banana and, to a lesser extent, the pineapple. Also of value medicinally are angostura bark and the rues (both now more commonly used for flavoring) and the poisonous jaborandi. Leaves of the latter (Pilocarpus spp. Brazil) are the source of pilocarpine, used to treat glaucoma. Several species of the Rutaceae yield lumber used for cabinetwork, e.g., the orange and the species called satinwood. The prickly ash, native to North America, is used in domestic brews and is often planted as a fragrant garden ornamental, as are the citrus trees and the varieties of dittany or fraxinella (Dictamnus alba), Old World woody perennials with a strong, lemonlike aroma. The name rue is properly restricted to the shrubby herbs of the genus Ruta, ranging from the Mediterranean to E Siberia. The common rue of history and literature is R. graveolans, which has greenish-yellow flowers and blue-green leaves sometimes variegated, with a very strong odor and a bitter taste. The leaves are now sometimes used in flavorings, beverages, and herb vinegars and in the preparation of cosmetics and perfumes. In medieval times rue was much used as a drug; its use as a condiment was thought to prevent poisons from affecting the system. Rue was strewn about law courts in parts of Great Britain as a preventive against diseases carried by criminals. It was sometimes associated with witches but also symbolized grace, repentance, and memory. Shakespeare in Richard II refers to it as the "sour herb of grace." The family Rutaceae is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Sapindales.

Rue (Ruta) is a genus of strongly scented evergreen subshrubs 20-60 cm tall, in the family Rutaceae, native to the Mediterranean region, Macronesia and southwest Asia. Different authors accept between 8-40 species in the genus. The most well-known species is the Common Rue.

The leaves are bipinnate or tripinnate, with a feathery appearance, and green to strongly glaucous blue-green in colour. The flowers are yellow, with 4-5 petals, about 1 cm diameter, and borne in cymes. The fruit is a 4-5 lobed capsule, containing numerous seeds.

It was used extensively in Middle Eastern cuisine in olden days, as well as in many ancient Roman recipes (according to Apicius), but because it is very bitter, it is usually not suitable for most modern tastes. However, it is still used in certain parts of the world, particularly in northern Africa.

Medicinal uses

According to The Oxford Book of Health Foods, extracts from rue have been used to treat eyestrain, sore eyes, and as an insect repellent. Rue has been used internally as an antispasmodic, as a treatment for menstrual problems, as an abortifacient, and as a sedative.


Caution should be taken with using rue topically. When applied to the skin with sun exposure, the oil and leaves can cause blistering. Rue oil can cause severe stomach pain, vomiting and convulsions and may be fatal.

Literary references

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".

It has also sometimes been called "herb-of-grace" in literary works. 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 also planted by the gardener in Shakespeare's 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."

In a song named Her Ghost in the Fog by the black metal band, Cradle of Filth on their Midian album.

"An inquisitive glance, like the shadows, they cast
On my Love picking rue by the light of the Moon."

Rue is considered a national herb of Lithuania and it is the most frequently referred herb in Lithuanian folk songs, as an attribute of young girls, associated with virginity and maidenhood.

In mythology, 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.

Songs associated with rue

Chervona Ruta (Червона Рута) Red Rue - A song, written by Volodymyr Ivasyuk - a popular Ukrainian poet and composer.

Sofia Rotaru, famous Pop-singer, sang the superhit Chervona Ruta in 1971. After her performance, a number of musical bands, film (Chervona Ruta), organisations and companies were named on the territory of the former USSR. The name of the song comes from an old Ukrainian legend Chervona Ruta. the song Chervona Ruta (literally "red rue") became part of Ukrainian and Russian pop culture recently with rap arrangements.

The progressive metal band Symphony X named a song "Absinthe and Rue" on their first album, Symphony X, and Kathleen Battle, American soprano, has recorded the song cycle "Honey and Rue" written by composer Andre Previn in collaboration with the Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison.

Many traditional English folk songs use rue to symbolise regret. Often it is paired with thyme: thyme used to symbolise virginity, and rue the regret supposed to follow its loss.

See also

  • Harmal (Peganum harmala), an unrelated plant also known as "Syrian rue"


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