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A Floridata Plant Profile #908 Ruta graveolens
Common Names: rue, common rue, herb of Grace
Family: Rutaceae (citrus Family)
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Shrub  Perennial  Drought Tolerant Can be Grown in Containers Has Medicinal Uses Has evergreen foliage Has Unusual or Interesting Foliage Flowers

Rue growing in the herb garden at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Rue is a small evergreen subshrub or semiwoody perennial 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 m) tall and almost as wide. The stems become woody near the base, but remain herbaceous nearer the tips. The 3-5 in (7.6-12.7 cm) long leaves are dissected pinnately into oblong or spoon shaped segments. They are somewhat fleshy and usually covered with a powdery bloom. The sea green foliage has a strong, pungent, rather unpleasant scent when bruised. The paniculate clusters of small yellow flowers appear in midsummer, held well above the foliage and often covering most of the plant. Each flower is about 0.5 in (1.3 cm) across with four concave notched petals. Rue usually grows in a compact, rounded mound. 'Jackman's Blue' has beautiful bluish green foliage and stays in a tight, rounded form, smaller than the species; this is the most popular cultivar in Europe. 'Blue Beauty' is small, to 18 in (45.7 cm) tall, with powdery blue foliage. 'Variegata' has white splashes on the leaves and is often used in floral arrangements.

Common rue is native to southern Europe and northern Africa. It is apparently no longer found in the wild, but occasionally escapes from gardens and naturalizes along roadsides and waste areas in North America and Europe, especially in the Balkans.

Rue thrives in poor sandy soils, and hot, dry sites.
Light: Rue grows best in full sun.
Moisture: Water new plantings regularly. Once it gets established, rue is quite tolerant of drought.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 9. Mulch heavily in winter in the north.
Propagation: Rue can be propagated from tip cuttings taken in autumn and started in moist sand. Seeds sown in spring germinate in about 14 days and will produce plants that flower in their second year. The seeds should be exposed to light, not buried.

Droplets of water bead up on these rue leaves. Too much water and fertilizer is fatal to this plant.

Rue is an attractive "ever bluish green" shrub, and a standout in the herb garden. It's often included in herb gardens just for its historical interest. Rue responds well to pruning - it can be shaped into a rounded mass and used in borders and beds, where it goes well with light colored flowers. Use rue to create a low hedge around the herb garden, as a specimen in the rock garden, or a border in a knot garden. Prune back to the old wood in spring to encourage bushiness. An attractive container plant, rue is often grown in a pot on the patio or on a sunny windowsill. Good drainage is essential to prevent root fungus problems.

Although they are bitter in large quantities, small amounts of rue leaves added to cream cheese, salads and egg dishes impart a pleasant musky flavor. Dogs and cats (as well as witches and evil spirits) hate the smell of rue. The dried and crushed leaves can be an effective insect repellent.

the ace of clubs
The ace of rue.
Rue has been used as a medicinal and "antimagic" herb for centuries. It was considered a reliable defense against witches. Gunflints boiled in a mixture of rue and vervain were said improve the shooter's aim. Artists, including Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, improved their creativity and eyesight by ingesting rue. Rue is a symbol of regret, sorrow and repentance, and Catholics used sprigs of it to sprinkle holy water on worshippers. The rue leaf was the model for the suit of clubs in playing cards. Rue was formerly used to treat almost every ailment known to Man, but modern herbalists now question its effectiveness as well as its safety.

It is said that the rue stolen from your neighbor's garden will grow best.

Some people are allergic to rue and get a skin rash from handling the plant. Especially on hot days, just brushing against rue can cause water blisters and blotchy skin, much like poison ivy. For some people, ingestion causes increased photosensitivity and can lead to severe sunburn. Ingesting large amounts of rue can cause violent stomach pain, vomiting, and convulsions. Pregnant women should never ingest rue.

Steve Christman 02/03/01; updated 10/23/03

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