Rue – characteristics, cultivation and use

rue flowers
rue flowers - by Kurt Stüber [1] - part of, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The rue is a perennial plant from the Mediterranean region. It loves sandy, calcareous soils and lots of sun. Already in ancient times knew the rue good. It was a typical spice of ancient Roman cuisine. Later, Benedictine monks brought them to the monastery gardens of the Middle Ages. It was used against the plague and serious diseases of the lungs. As a spice herb, however, rue leaves are still used today in Mediterranean cuisine and in the production of grappa.

Profile of rue:

Scientific name: Ruta graveolens

Plant family: rue family (Rutaceae)

Other names: common rue, herb-of-grace

Sowing time / Planting time: April (pre-culture), May (open field)

Flowering period: June – October

Harvest time: May – June

Useful plant parts: leaves, flowers, buds

Location: Full sun to sunny

Soil quality: poor, well-drained and calcareous soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: joint pain, bone pain, toothache, nervous restlessness, headache

Use as aromatic herb: lamb, poultry, fish, desserts, cheese dishes

Plant characteristics and classification of rue

Origin and occurrence of rue

Botanical studies have shown that the rue originally originates from the Mediterranean area. Due to its great importance as a medicinal herb in the Middle Ages, the rue was cultivated by monks in monasteries, which why them can be found wild in Central Europe today.

Plant order of rue

Rue belongs to the rue family (Rutaceae). Well-known further representatives of this family are the diptam (Dictamus) or all well-known citrus plants. About the genus of Ruta, the knowledge base is somewhat sketchy. Some botanists suspect up to 40 species within this genus, but currently only eight are known.

The name Ruta comes from the ancient Roman and means bitter tasting herb.

Look and characteristics of the rue


The hardy plant grows 50 to 80 cm (20 and 32 in) high and grows heavily branched, bushy and upright. As a semi-shrub, the plant lignifies on the lower branches.


Characteristic are the two- to threefold feathered, spatulate leaves of the rue. The foliage color is a pale blue or gray green. Each leaf contains numerous oil glands that emit a strong aromatic odor. Keeping the leaves in the light, the oil glands are usually well recognized. Even the slight rubbing of the leaves releases an intense scent that is even used in the perfume industry. In the household, the smell should keep away ants. The stem axis lignifies with increasing age from bottom to top. The upper part of the stem axis is highly branched.


The flowering period of the rue is usually expected between June to October. The small, yellow, hermaphroditic flowers form a loose veil of golden umbels. They do not smell. Each individual flower usually measures up to 1 cm (0.4 in) in diameter. The flowers are arranged in so-called cymes.


In the fall at the branch ends spherical seed pods are formed. Within develop about 3 mm(0.12 in) long, crescent-shaped, black seeds. Once the capsules are completely dried, they empty and spread the seed.

Rue – cultivation and care


In its original distribution area, the rue has colonized sunny to full sun locations with mostly barren, well-drained and sandy-loamy soils. The plant is an indicator for lime and therefore also requires a calcareous soil. Commercially available herb soil is not suitable. This should be mixed with at least 50 percent sand and lime.


The plant needs germination temperatures around 20 ° C (68 ° F), which means that direct sowing is only possible in mid-May. If you want to cultivate the plant earlier, a preculture is necessary. The germination period is about 15 to 21 days. Young plants are placed at a distance of about 40 cm (16 in) in the bed.


The rue contains furanocoumarins, which cause phototoxic reactions on skin contact and sunshine. Wear gloves and then wash your hands and arms.


Rue are adapted to barren locations and are considered specialists. In the garden bed, it is advisable in the spring to mix some compost in the upper soil area. If no compost is available, fresh cattle manure or other light organic liquid fertilizer can also be used. In most cases, no additional supply of nutrients is necessary afterwards. For pot crops, a standard herbal fertilizer should be used in spring and shortly before flowering.


The rue tolerates quite a few dry days, but should always be well supplied with some moisture, if possible. On normal temperate days (up to 20 ° C / 68 ° F) it is perfectly sufficient to water vigorously once a week. On very hot summer days, the pouring cycles should be shortened a bit.


The rue is not sensitive to frost and can withstand cold temperatures down to -20 ° C /-4 ° F without any problems. After fructification in October, the rue loses its leaves and survives in the soil. In the spring, the aboveground plant components sprout again. It is not necessary to take special wintering measures. For pot cultures, it is recommended to store in a cool place. Mostly light-flooded and not heated hallways of flats or houses are well suited.

Diseases and pests

Due to the toxic ingredients, diseases are rarely expected. Too lush watering or dense planting distances may occur fungal diseases such as mildew.


You can harvest the young flowers, buds and leaves of the rue between May and June. Because of the phototoxic effect, harvesting with gloves is recommended. A regular pruning of the shoot tips during the herb harvest keeps the shrubs in shape and promotes the new sprouting.


You can dry the plant parts in the air, put in oil or freeze in water as an ice cube. Rue oil should be filtered after a few days, so that it does not become bitter. As a seasoning, the herb can be used in the kitchen, but the longer you cook it, the more intense its taste – so you should use it only sparingly and only at the end of the cooking process.

rue leaves
rue leaves

Use of rue

Rue in the kitchen

In the Mediterranean kitchen, the rue is considered a popular wild herb and is also used in traditional cuisine for many dishes. However, rue leaves can cause discomfort in high doses, so only small amounts should be used.

The leaves have a very aromatic, bitter and strong taste. Due to the taste intensity, it is also recommended to use only small amounts. The leaves go well for hearty meat dishes such as lamb, pork or poultry. Rue is also used for fish dishes in combination with fennel or anise.

Even if the bitter taste does not suggest it at first glance, you can use fresh rue leaves for desserts. For example, jams, jellies and sweet spreads with rue may have a sweet-aromatic taste with a fine bitter undertone. Another option is the seasoning of honey with pine nuts and hazelnuts to a kind of grout.

In the Roman cuisine of antiquity, the rue was an integral part. A well-known dish was a cheese paste called Moretum. The basis of this recipe was usually a sheep’s cheese, which was prepared in a mortar together with olive oil, white wine vinegar, garlic, coriander and rue. It was mostly served with freshly made bread.

The rue has great importance as an ingredient for various spirits. Especially for Grappa, the leaves of the plant are used for flavoring. In the Croatian Travarica, a schnapps made from grapes, rue is also part of the recipe.

Rue as a medicinal herb

The rue was considered as a very powerful medicinal plant in antiquity and the Middle Ages. Nearly all known doctors and botanists have devoted several pages to the plant. As the plant is not toxicological safe and many of the applications at that time could not withstand scientific research, the rue is today only occasionally noticed in the naturopathy and if, especially used for lighter mental disorders and complaints of the musculoskeletal system.

In the herbal books of the Middle Ages, the rue was considered one of the most important medicinal herbs. It was recommended against the plague and was considered an antidote against the venom of snake bites and scorpions. Even with more severe diseases of the lungs and intestinal complaints, rue extracts in combination with dill seeds were recommended. Crushed leaves with rose vinegar were considered a possible medication against all sorts of headaches.

The ingredients and effects of the rue on the human organism have meanwhile been scientifically well studied. Rue contains mainly essential oils, some alkaloids and the flavonoid rutin.

Rue can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • bloating
  • circulation problems
  • gout
  • headache
  • high blood pressure
  • hot flashes
  • indigestion
  • irritable stomach
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • joint pain
  • menstrual cramps
  • menopausal symptoms
  • promoting blood circulation
  • promoting menstrual
  • rheumatism
  • stomach cramps
  • toothache

Medicinal properties

  • antispasmodic

The essential oil of the rue has a direct effect on the central nervous system. Higher doses of the oil can cause drowsiness, inflammation of the stomach, and swelling of the tongue and larynx. In addition, higher doses over a longer period can lead to fatigue, drowsiness, liver damage, and possibly even death.

Some coumarins contained in the rue may help against bone and joint discomfort. This would justify the use of the rue in folk medicine for rheumatism, tendon disease or bursitis.

The leaves of the rue may be drunk as tea, of which one should drink a maximum of three cups a day (not more). This tea helps against indigestion caused by cramping or lack of blood circulation. Also, against menstrual problems, especially in too weak or too late period, the rue may help.

As a quick and good home remedy, fresh rue leaves are suitable for toothache. To do this, crush the leaves with a mortar and place them around the painful area. The application should only be for acute toothache and should not be repeated too often.

Side effects and instructions for use

Rue must not be used during pregnancy or lactation. The containing oils can lead to vasodilation and increased labor activity, which can result in miscarriages. The containing fucocoumarins may be phototoxic to some people and cause increased photosensitivity or even veritable skin irritation. Basically, rue should only be used after advice from a doctor or pharmacist.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Rue – What is there to pay attention to?

The rue is used today mainly as an ornamental plant and more rarely as a spice plant. In the trade mainly seed, fresh plants and occasionally dried herbs can be found.

Some seed producers offer high-quality seeds. For the ornamental plant area, the variety Jackman’s Blue (Ruta graveolens cv.) is still to call, which develops blue-gray to blue-green leaves and is usually an eye-catcher in the garden. For use in the kitchen or as a medicinal plant pay attention to the botanical name Ruta graveolens. The price for a package is about 2 EUR/$

There are occasionally fresh plants available in plant markets or in the specialized plant trade. In addition, some online and mail order companies offer fresh quality wines. If the plants are purchased locally, the substrate and the lower leaf section should be considered more closely. The soil should not be wet. The leaves, however, should have no gray or white spots, as this could indicate mildew. Thre price for a plant is about 4 EUR/$.

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