Common Rue: A Bitter But Valuable Ingredient

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Common rue (Ruta graveolens) comes from the Balkan Peninsula and North Africa but has been naturalized all over the world. The Rutaceae family to which common rue belongs also includes citrus trees. It was widely used in ancient times, but its use has declined because of its reputation for toxicity and a flavor that can be unpleasant if you misuse the herb.

The Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used common rue as a medicine.

Common rue has many names including herbygrass and herb of grace. The herb of grace name comes from the Roman Catholic church where it was used to sprinkle water that had been blessed by priests. The practice probably came from an Ancient Roman practice of using the herb to purify weapons after a battle.

The Ancient Romans introduces common rue to England but referred to it by what is now its botanical name: ruta. The English shortened the name to rue, which sounds like the word meaning sorrow; ruta comes from Greek and means to set free. The second part of the botanical name is from the Latin for something having a strong, offensive odor.

Hippocrates valued common rue for its medicinal qualities while Aristotle considered it valuable for treating anxiety. Dioscorides and Pliny the Elder both prescribed common rue as an antidote to venomous snakebites when combined with oleander. Pliny also wrote that artists used it to preserve their eyesight.

In the Middle Ages, common rue was a strewing herb for warding off snakes and insects. It was believed that you could shield yourself from the plague by holding up a sprig of it to your nose. Rue was an ingredient in Four Thieves Vinegar, which was believed to protect thieves as they stole from dying plague sufferers. The herb was eventually brought to the New World by Spanish explorers.

The shape of common rue leaves is said to be the basis from the suit of clubs in playing card decks.

People were still using common rue to protect against disease in the 1800s.

Common rue flavor profile

The flavor and aroma of common rue are controversial. Some describe its smell as being musty, and the specific epithet part of the botanical name suggests that the odor is downright unpleasant. The flavor is decidedly bitter.

Health benefits of common rue

Common rue contains powerful therapeutic compounds and nutrients like:

  • Vitamins: Common rue is a source of vitamins C and K.
  • Rutin: Ruin is a flavonoid in common rue that provides several benefits related to blood circulation.

You can use common rue for treating or preventing the following health conditions:

  • Inflammatory conditions: Common rue has been used to treat symptoms of gout throughout history, along with sciatica and rheumatism.
  • Epilepsy: The sedative and antiepileptic properties of common rue make it an effective treatment for epilepsy.
  • Atherosclerosis: One of the causes of atherosclerosis is cholesterol toxicity, which common rue is believed to treat.

Warning

Common rue contains a neurotoxin that causes symptoms ranging from stomach discomfort to severe liver damage. Experts recommend that you consume the herb only under the guidance of a physician.

Common uses

Common rue is one of the ingredients in Ethiopian berbere seasoning, and the herb is used in various parts of the Mediterranean region. In parts of Northern Italy and Croatia, grappa and raki are flavored with sprigs of common rue.