A genus of eight species of strong-smelling, evergreen or semi-evergreen subshrubs, found in dry rocky places in Mediterranean regions, the Canary Islands, NE Africa, and SW Asia. In spite of its widespread use as a medicinal herb in the past, rue is little used for medicinal or culinary purposes today. Nevertheless, rue is an enduringly popular garden plant; it is one of the finest gray-leafed evergreens, and remains neat and attractive all year. The common name "herb of grace", refers to the tradition of using a sprig of rue to sprinkle holy water during Mass. Ruta graveolens contains flavonoids (notably rutin) that reduce capillary fragility (which may explain why rue is a traditional remedy for failing eyesight), together with a pungent volatile oil, furanocoumarins (including bergapten which sensitizes skin to sunlight), and alkaloids. The potent chemistry of rue has always been regarded as protective; it was an ingredient of Mithridates' antidotes, and of "four thieves' vinegar", which protected from contagion a band of thieves who plundered the bodies of plague victims; posies of rue and Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) were once placed in courtrooms to ward off jail fever. Rue is also mentioned a number of times in the Bible, though it is more likely to refer to R. chalepensis (Egyptian rue, fringed rue), which has a more southerly distribution. Egyptian rue is used for flavoring in N Africa, especially in sausages known as merguez. Ruta may derive from the Greek rutos, "shielded", in view of its long history as an antidote.

Small, evergreen or semi-evergreen subshrub with glaucous, gray-green leaves, to 15cm (6in) long, deeply divided into numerous obovate lobes. Mustard-yellow, fringed, 4-petaled flowers to 1cm (½in) across, appear in summer, followed by 4-lobed capsules.

Common Name:
Other Names:
Garden Rue, German Rue, Herb of Grace, Herbygrass
Botanical Name:
Ruta graveolens
SE Europe
Well-drained, neutral to alkaline soil in sun. Cut back hard (but not into main stem) in spring. May suffer from root rot in damp conditions.
By seed (except Jackman's Blue) sown in spring; by semi-ripe cuttings in summer. Variegata is unusual among variegated cultivars in coming true from seed.
Leaves are picked in spring and summer, and dried for infusion, liquid extracts, and powders.
60cm (24in)
30-45cm (12-18in)
Jackman's Blue
Has blue-gray leaves.
Has irregular creamy-white variegations.
Parts Used:
Leaves, Entire Plant
Chemical Constituents:
  • Esters
  • Methyl-N-nonyl-Ketone
  • Phenols
  • Rutin
  • Tannins
  • Volatile Oils
  • Properties:
    A bitter, pungent, warming herb that stimulates the uterus, relaxes spasms, improves digestion, increases perspiration, and strengthens capillaries.
    Known Effects:
  • Stimulates uterine contractions
  • Prolongs action of epinephrine
  • Relieves spasm in skeletal or smooth muscle
  • Decreases capillary fragility
  • Interferes with absorption of iron and other minerals when taken internally
  • Possible Additional Effects:
  • May cause onset of menstruation
  • May treat hysteria
  • May treat intestinal parasites (worms)
  • May treat colic
  • May control postpartum bleeding
  • Medicinal Uses:
    Internally for menstrual problems, colic, epilepsy, palsy, and rheumatic pain. Externally for sore eyes, earache, skin diseases, neuralgia, and rheumatism. Used in homeopathy for sprains, bruising over bones, tennis elbow, backache, weak eyesight, and eye strain.
    Culinary Uses:
    The pungent, bitter leaves can be used to flavor vinegar. Seeds are used to flavor palm wine (N Africa), and are ground as an ingredient of Ethiopian spice mixtures.
    Economic Uses:
    Leaves are used to flavor Italian grape spirit (grappa), and were an ingredient of sack (mead).
    Warnings and Precautions:
    Serious skin irritant in sunlight, causing severe blistering.
    Excess affects central nervous system and may prove fatal.
    Contraindicated during pregnancy.

    Don't take if you:
  • Are pregnant, think you may be pregnant, or plan pregnancy in the near future
  • Have any chronic disease of the gastrointestinal tract, such as stomach or duodenal ulcers, reflux esophagitis, ulcerative colitis, spastic colitis, diverticulosis, or diverticulitis

  • Consult your doctor if you:
  • Take this herb for any medical problem that doesn't improve in 2 weeks (There may be safer, more effective treatments.)
  • Take any medicinal drugs or herbs including aspirin, laxative, cold and cough remedies, antacids, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, supplements, other prescription or non-prescription drugs

  • Pregnancy:
    Dangers outweigh any possible benefits. Don't use.
    Dangers outweigh any possible benefits. Don't use.
    Infants and Children:
    Treating infants and children under 2 with any herbal preparation is hazardous.
    None are expected if you are beyond childhood, under 45, not pregnant, basically healthy, take it only for a short time and do not exceed manufacturer's recommended dose.
  • Store in cool, dry area away from direct light, but don't freeze.
  • Store safely out of reach of children.
  • Don't store in bathroom medicine cabinet. Heat and moisture may change the action of the herb.

  • Safe Dosage:
    Consult your doctor for the appropriate dose for your condition.
    Rated relatively safe when taken in appropriate quantities for short periods of time.
    Adverse Reactions, Side Effects or Overdose Symptoms:
    Signs and Symptoms What to Do

    Abdominal pain Discontinue. Call doctor when convenient.
    Abortion Seek emergency treatment
    Confusion Discontinue. Call doctor immediately.
    Diarrhea Discontinue. Call doctor immediately
    Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes) Discontinue. Call doctor immediately
    Nausea or Vomiting Discontinue. Call doctor immediately
    Skin Rashes Discontinue. Call doctor when convenient
    Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pg.352
    Vitamins, Herbs, Minerals & Supplements The Complete Guide by H. Winter Griffith, MD Copyright©1998 Fisher Books pp. 433-434