Ruta Graveolens: Growing Common Rue

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Heidi Cardenas is a freelance writer and gardener in Lake County, Illinois, with a background in human resources. She has written about gardening for various online venues and enjoys The Herb Companion’s valuable resources.

The word “rue” means “to regret,” and the herb of the same name is associated with regret, sadness and bitterness in biblical writings and literature. Rue (Ruta graveolens) is a bitter herb native to the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. It has evergreen bluish-green leaves that grow in groups of six or seven off the semi-woody branches. The mature plant reaches about 2 1/2 feet tall. The leaves smell bitter and medicinal when cut or crushed. Rue produces many small four-petalled flowers in mid- to late-summer. The foliage has an almost lacy look to it, although the leaf sections are not thin and pointy but rounded.

Rue foliage is delicate and lacy-looking.
Photo by Heidi Cardenas

Rue is easy to grow. The tiny seeds, if strewn onto a garden plot or a container of potting soil and covered with a light sprinkling of soil and moistened, will sprout in a week or so. Tiny light green seedlings look delicate, but are sturdy and will grow quickly into a foot-tall plant. Pinching the tops will make them grow bushier. Rue will grow well outdoors in poor or rich soil, with little attention. Inside as a houseplant, rue needs regular watering and bright light to grow well. During mid-summer, it will produce tiny yellow flowers at the tops of the plants, which turn into hard green seed-heads that dry into brown husks and open to reveal and drop many tiny black seeds.

Yellow rue flowers grow at the tops of the plants and turn into hard green seed-heads.
Photo by Heidi Cardenas

Snip off dried seed-heads into a plastic bag to collect seeds for planting next season or for giving away. Crushed rue seed can be added to soups, salads and sauces for seasoning and flavoring.

Photo by H. Zell/Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Rue is called “herb of grace” for its varied culinary and medicinal uses, some associated with improving or restoring eyesight. I personally use it as an eyewash by snipping a few fresh green leaves and soaking them in distilled or purified water overnight.

Rue makes a refreshing eyewash when steeped in purified water overnight.
Photo by Heidi Cardenas

Used as eyedrops, rue water refreshes red, dry eyes and irritated eyes that have been over-worked in front of a computer screen. It was used in ancient times as an antidote for poisons and for protection from evil. In Italy, it is eaten in salads and used to make the alcoholic drink grappa all ruta. It can be simmered in coffee as they do in Ethiopia to add a lemony flavor. Small snippets of fresh rue can be added to meat and egg dishes during cooking. Dried rue repels insects such as fleas and lice and is good to tuck into pet bedding.

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