Rue Plant Study


A Plant Study

Common Rue
Ruta graveolens L.

by Anete B. E. Effting

Common names of the plant


I. Perception of Rue: giving strong support to bear whatever comes

Observing Rue through the Twelve Windows of Plant Perception

Form, Gesture, Signature

Botanical Plant Family



Medicinal Uses and Risks

Herbal Lore, Mythology, Folk Wisdom, Culinary Uses

Four Elements

Cosmic and Earthly Relationships

Daily and Seasonal Cycles


Field Study Sketches

II. Artistry with Rue: pressed flowers and arrangements

Bibliographic References


Common Names of the Plant

Rue, Common Rue, Herb of Grace, Country Man’s Treacle, Herbygrass – English
Rue Fétide, Rue officinale, Herbe de Grace - French
Weinraute – German
Arruda, Arruda Fedorenta, Arruda Doméstica, Arruda dos jardins, Ruta de cheiro forte – Portuguese
Ruda, Ruda de Monte, Arroda, Erruda – Spanish


The specimen I observed has been planted for four years in the balcony of my apartment, on the 8th floor, facing East. There is a special reason why I chose it: four years ago, when I moved to this apartment, I was going through a very turbulent period of my life. One of the first plants I was drawn to plant on my balcony was this Rue, which is well-known for dying easily if there are negative energies present. What actually happened is that it seemed to feed on that very negative energetic environment, thriving to become a beautiful and healthy plant and, most importantly, making me feel a level of protection that helped me through those difficult times. Therefore, I owe a debt of gratitude to the Rue that has warded me off for so long. I like to think that I was chosen by it, and not the other way around.


I. Perception of Rue: giving strong support to bear whatever comes

The four-year old plant is well-established and has not been transplanted during this period. I purchased it as a seedling and the only maintenance has been mulching and removing dead branches. When the stalks became too long to bear its weight, they were pruned a few inches above the root level, and new sprouts would start growing right away.

Rue is an evergreen shrub about 80 cm (3 ft) tall, with individual round stalks that shoot up right from the base. Some of them split in two, but most are single stems, with a cluster of leaves at the distal end of the stem – about three quarters from the base. Some stems are tall and slender, measuring between 60-80 cm (2-3 ft). The stalks are hard, with a diameter ranging from 6-10 mm (2-4 in) covered with scars at regular intervals, showing where leaves that have fallen off used to grow. The bark and leaves have a similar aroma. When broken, the bark shows a very thin, dry, paper-like external layer that has a sandy color which can easily be peeled off with a nail. Immediately underneath, the next layer is light green, soft and moist, and can be peeled off as well. The next layer is somewhat dryer and of a faded green, almost white. This layer is very tough and dry, and cannot be peeled off. I tried to break it open with my nails and was able to split it. This rather “hard shell” showed a very soft and well protected white compact core, with a consistency that reminded me of bread dough. What called my attention was the fact that these layers were completely different from one another both in color and consistency, in spite of being extremely thin, and the drier layer enveloped the softer one. The region that bears leaves has a completely different tone, a light green that matches the leaves, and the color transition from green to beige is abrupt. Also, this “green” area is rather soft and juicy. It seems to me that when the leaves fall off, there is no longer a need for so much softness and moisture, thus the bark becomes tough and changes to this sandy shade. Tiny new leaves grow at the very end of the stems and look like very delicate lacework when they first appear. In spite of being hard and tough, the long stem is quite flexible and sways to the wind.

The whole orientation of the plant is upward. The stalks seem to try to reach the sky, while the roots attach it firmly to the ground. It is well rooted, although I have not been able to observe the root system. I held it close to the base and tried to pull the plant, but it offered great resistance. 

The bright yellow fringed flowers with protruding stamens are star-like, and grow in clusters, facing straight up. The central flower has five petals, while all other have four. The rounded petals are initially curled around the center and slowly open up, forming a protective shield for the light green, four/five-lobbed ovary, which gradually swells up, until the petals are no longer necessary and drop. The ovary, with 4-5 chambers, continues growing until it reaches a size between 0,5 – 1 cm (.2 – .4 in), becoming brown as it matures, eventually opening up to reveal 4-5 tiny black seeds in its interior. I observed this process from August to December 2007, and documented it with pictures, some of which are shown in this paper.


The leaf colors range from green-grayish to a bluish green with a velvety touch. The rounded small leaves are disposed symmetrically on the upper part of the stem. They are very light and bright green when young, turning into a green-grayish tone as they get older, eventually becoming brown at the tips and falling off. Some older leaves are covered with a white soft layer underneath the blade. I am not sure whether this is a natural feature of the plant or a parasite of the plant I observed. The leaves are symmetrically distributed on each individual stem, to the right and left and at the tip. They have a central grayish vein and many smaller secondary veins deriving from the main vein. Some leaves remind me of a heart shape.

One of the most striking features of this plant is indeed the strong, aromatic, bitter or acrid scent, but once you get used to it, it can be very soothing and comforting. I have had personal experiences with that. Whenever I feel upset, mashing a few leaves with my fingers and smelling them makes me feel better. The taste of the leaves is quite bitter and the berries taste similar, but stronger and a little hot.

The plant I observed grows in a sunny environment, receiving direct sun all morning until about mid-afternoon. It does not require much water or mulching, and the blooming period ranges from the end of winter (August) throughout the end Spring (December). In December, the ovaries were dry and ready to release the seeds. The stem that was at this stage broke during a storm, but what I observed in the previous years is that the seeds drop as the stem sways to the wind, and I have actually had some new plants grow from these seeds in the preceding years.

Rue seems to have a strong relationship to the Earth and Air elements. The Air is present in the delicate blossoms and leaves that offer no resistance to the wind, however pointing straight up into the sky when left undisturbed. They have an ethereal and delicate appearance that makes me think the plant has some influence on our thoughts. The leaves seem to form a protective network, while the flowers with their antenna-like stamens seem to gather energies from above. On the other hand, the strength of the stalks and the firmness of the roots make me think of the Earth element, with its grounding qualities. To me, what becomes quite evident is that this plant has the quality of connecting these two elements, Earth and Air, thus giving us strong support to bear whatever comes our way.

By analyzing the medicinal uses and risks of rue, one aspect became very clear to me: the same energy that protects and cures can also kill you – it depends only on the amount you use.


Observing Rue through the Twelve Windows of Plant Perception 

Form, Gesture, Signature

This was mostly described above. The star-like shape and the cosmic upward orientation of the bright yellow flowers speak very emphatically of a connection with the light, making me think they have a very important role in linking our consciousness to the higher realms. The ascending pattern of the stems, leaves and flowers reinforce this idea. Even the leaves face up. I am puzzled about the fact that only the central flower has five petals, while the others surrounding it have only four. May that be a representation of the Divine and our need to connect and surrender to it – the central flower – and we as the surrounding flowers?

Botanical Plant Family

Kingdom Plantae – Plants
   Subkingdom Tracheobionta – Vascular plants
      Superdivision Spermatophyta – Seed plants
         Division Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants
            Class Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
               Subclass Rosidae
                  Order Sapindales
                     Family Rutaceae – Rue family
                       Genus Ruta L. – rue
                           Species Ruta graveolens L. – common rue



As mentioned before, the bright yellow color imparts light and the idea of connection to a higher consciousness.


The extremely sharp and rather bitter odor of the leaves makes me wonder whether this is the part of the signature that refers to the high protection level offered by this plant, as a means of keeping negative astral energies away. At the same time the flowers draw in the light, the leaves seem to say “Stay away, dark energies, we don’t want anything to do with you,” while the roots state “We are here to ground you”.


Rue can be poisonous if ingested in excessive quantities.  All parts of the plant contain the active principles, although they are mostly encountered in leaves (especially before blooming). The main active principles of the plant are:

a) glycosides, such as rutine, a flavonoid, responsible for the bitter taste.

b) alkaloids (quinolones): skimmianine and graveoline.

c) furocoumarins (psoralens):  bergaptene (3-methoxypsoralen) and xantotoxine (8-methoxypsoralen), responsible for photosensitization, hepatotoxicity and nephrotocixity.

d) essential oils:  methyl-nonyl-ketone (has effects on the uterus), methyl-n-octyl-ketone and methyl-heptyl-ketone.

e) alcohols: methyl-ethyl-carbinol, pinene, limenenes.

f) other compounds are:  dictamine, skimmianine, pteleine and kokusaginine.
Tannin, resins and ascorbic acid have also been found in the plant.


Medicinal Uses and Risks

As a medicinal herb, the fresh leaves are used; if not available, dried leaves are a poor substitute. Rue oil and infusions of rue were formerly used as antispasmodics and emmenagogues. Rue oil is a powerful local irritant . It is recommended in herbal treatment of insomnia, headaches, nervousness, abdominal cramps, and renal troubles. It is a well-known emmenagogue. The plant may be part of sedative and hypnotic herbal preparations (rue oil is a commonly-used homoeopathic medicine as rubefacient, for certain dermatoses as eczemas and psoriasis), and as an antiviral agent when combined with other herbs. Applied or rubbed on the skin it has a rubefacient effect (for rheumatic pains).

The most frequent, intentional use of the plant has been for induction of abortion. Although some cases of poisoning are due to errors in the preparation of medicinal infusions, most clinical cases are due to intentional ingestion to induce abortion.  The traditional medicinal infusion is made with a full spoon of leaves per 250 ml (8.5 oz) of boiling water and not more than 2 cups are generally used per day. In case of intentional abortion the preparation is highly concentrated and usually mixed with other herbs. In Mediterranean and South American countries the plant is widely spread and well-known; severe cases of poisoning are reported in countries where voluntary abortion is illegal. In traditional medicine its use in children is contraindicated.

Use of herbal preparations of Ruta should be avoided unless there is accurate knowledge of their constituents and possible effects. Pregnant women should avoid the ingestion of infusions that may contain abortifacient (emmenagogue) plants. Skin contact with Ruta should be avoided. Rue oil is approved, however, by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a flavoring agent.

I found reference to the use of Rue as a flower essence by FES and Filhas de Gaia, a Brazilian system. FES describes its positive qualities as “Internal cohesion and containment of psychic forces; activation of appropriate aspects of soul consciousness according to professional and personal responsibilities” and the patterns of imbalance are “scattered or confused psychic forces which deplete immunity and protective boundaries; need for greater clarity and discrimination in the activation of psychic forces.”


Maria Grillo, the researcher in charge of Filhas de Gaia, has sent me a description of the qualities of Rue essence according to this system. It is classified as a research essence so far. I am including the complete description, although it is a little long.

RUE -  Yellow-greenish flowers - Ruta graveolens L.
It facilitates the emergence of Willpower for the construction of a harmonious, prosperous and peaceful life, exercising our free will and protecting our physical, psychic and spiritual space. It sets boundaries, balances and strengthens the individuality and the Willpower of the solar qualities of the Soul, while assisting the Ego in attuning and aligning with these positive Soul qualities to strengthen itself and develop a strong and positive Self. This movement facilitates the alignment and the cure of those aspects in ourselves that identify with destructive, self-destructive and aggressive feelings and its negative effects in our relationships. This Flower Essence is extremely important for those who, in a relationship, allow other people’s will to dominate their own, leading them to engage in self-destructive behaviors, or to allow negative influences to enter their lives, whether they come from the spiritual, astral, psychic worlds or from their personal relationships.

KEYWORDS: Positive Soul power – Strong will – Individuality – Psychic protection – Spiritual protection – Physical protection – Be true to oneself – Willpower – Trust in the Soul power – Dignity – Solar consciousness – Masculine – Protective – Weak willpower – Low vitality – Psyche focused on a frequency of lack of love – Psychic weakness – Aggressiveness – Self-destruction – Destructive or self-destructive drive – Anger – External interference – Destructive interference – Evil spirits – Psychic exhaustion – Accidents – Subservience – Lower Self – Energetic drain – Prone to falls and accidents with wounds – Psychic attack –  Spell – Witchcraft and charm


Herbal Lore, Mythology, Folk Wisdom, Culinary Uses

Most Western European languages have similar names for rue: English and French rue, Dutch ruit and German Raute all go back to Latin ruta, which itself was borrowed from Greek rhyte. The ultimate origin of the word is not known. Quite interestingly, several names of rue have chance homonyms: English rue may also mean “remorse”, French rue means “street”; and the German for street, raute, is related to the Latin rhomb, "equilateral parallelogram.”

In the New Testament, rue is mentioned as peganon, a name still used in Modern Greek as apiganos. There have been attempts to link that name with Greek pegos  “strong” and thus the Indo-European root PEK “strengthen,” but the semantic connection is unclear. Related plant names are French péganium, Hebrew pegam, Aramaic pegana, and Arabic al-fayjan.

The Latin species name, which rue shares with several other aromatic plants like celery or dill, means “strongly smelling”: Latin gravis means “heavy” and olens is the present participle of olere, “smell.”

Rue belongs to those culinary herbs whose usage in the kitchen is checked by their inherent bitterness. Rue was a very common spice in ancient Rome, often being used for country-style food like moretum, a spicy paste of fresh garlic, hard cheese and herbs (coriander, celery, rue); nevertheless, its name was often used metonymically for “bitterness,” especially in poetry. During the last 2000 years, this ambivalent position gave way to an almost universal rejection in our days. I even found a Moretum recipe at The Historical Cookery Page.

Apart from occasional use in Italy, rue’s popularity is greatest in Ethiopia. Fresh rue leaves are sometimes used as a coffee flavorer (remember that coffee is probably native to Ethiopia!), and rue is also sometimes mentioned as a component in the national spice mix, berbere. Ethiopian cuisine is unique in using not only rue leaves, but also the dried fruits (rue berries) with their more intensive, slightly pungent flavor that is well preserved on drying.

To cook with rue is usually considered old-fashioned and yet, it is definitely worth a try; meat, eggs and cheese all can profit from this nearly unknown spice, provided care is taken not to overdose. The bitter taste is reduced by acids; thus, a leaf of rue may be used to flavor pickled vegetables, make a salad more interesting or add a very personal touch to home-made herbal vinegar. Because of its general affinity to acidic food, rue goes well with spicy Italian tomato sauces containing olives and capers.
Like many other bitter spices, rue is popular for flavoring liquors. Besides stimulating the appetite, bitter liquors have some tonic, stomachic and even bile-stimulating properties, all of which are advantageous after a rich feast. In Italy, rue is used to flavor grappa, a type of brandy.

The Latin moretum, seems to have been a somewhat attractive subject to ancient poets. A poem with this title was written by one "Sveius," and a few lines of it are quoted by Macrobius (iii, 18). Parthenius, who was Vergil's instructor in Greek (Macrobius, "Saturnalia," v, 17), wrote on this subject, and in the Ambrosian MS. of Vergil there is a marginal note saying that Vergil's poem was an imitation or translation of that of his teacher. Below I have quoted a few lines of Vergil’s poem:

“On something of the kind reflecting had
He then the garden entered, first when there
With fingers having lightly dug the earth
Away, he garlic roots with fibres thick,
And four of them doth pull; he after that
Desires the parsley's graceful foliage,
And stiffness-causing rue,' and, trembling on
Their slender thread, the coriander seeds,
And when he has collected these he comes
And sits him down beside the cheerful fire
And loudly for the mortar asks his wench.”

In ancient medicine, the herb was a favored remedy as an antidote to poison and was seen as a magic herb by many cultures and as a protection against evil. It was used for nervous afflictions, digestive problems and hysterics. Rue has a long history of use in both medicine and magic, and is considered a protective herb in both disciplines. The hardy evergreen shrub is mentioned by writers from Pliny to Shakespeare and beyond, as an herb of remembrance, of warding and of healing. Early physicians considered rue an excellent protection against plagues and pestilence, and used it to ward off poisons and fleas. It is one of the most well-known of the magical protective herbs and is often used in spells of warding and protection in modern magic.
Rue was once believed to improve the eyesight and creativity, and no less personages than Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci regularly ate the small, trefoil leaves to increase their own. The legend of rue lives on in playing cards, where the symbol for the suit of clubs is said to be modeled on a leaf of rue.

Rue was much used by the Ancients; Hippocrates specially commended it, and it constituted a chief ingredient of the famous antidote to poison used by Mithridates. The Greeks regarded it as an anti-magical herb, because it served to remedy the nervous indigestion they suffered when eating before strangers, which they attributed to witchcraft. In the Middle Ages and later, it was considered - in many parts of Europe - a powerful defense against witches, and was used in many spells. It was also thought to bestow second sight.

At one time the holy water was sprinkled from brushes made of Rue at the ceremony usually preceding the Sunday celebration of High Mass, for which reason it is supposed it was named the Herb of Repentance and the Herb of Grace. 'There's rue for you and here's some for me; we may call it herb of grace o' Sundays.'
Shakespeare refers again to Rue in Richard II:

'Here in this place
I'll set a bank of rue, sour herb of grace;
Rue, even for ruth, shall shortly here be seen,
In the remembrance of a weeping queen.'

The following is a quotation from Drayton:

'Then sprinkles she the juice of rue,
With nine drops of the midnight dew
From lunarie distilling.'

Rue was strewn about law courts in parts of Great Britain as a preventive against diseases carried by criminals, and the bouquet still presented in some districts to judges at the assizes was originally a bunch of aromatic herbs, given to him for the purpose of warding off jail-fever. In Saxony, Rue has given its name to an Order.

In Colonial Brazil (1500-1815), it was also regarded as a plant that imparted protection, being used by slaves and masters alike, often associated to African rituals. In a famous painting called “Picturesque and Historic Journey to Brazil,” Jean Debret depicts the trade of rue on the streets by African slaves, used as a charm for good luck and protection.

Presently, Rue is widely used in several different religious rituals, specially in the Afro-Brazilian cults. I have had personal experiences of putting some leaves in a glass of water and drinking it when I felt an emotional imbalance, and I did feel better afterwards. Some people put it behind their ears when they feel they need protection, or put it underneath their pillow for a better sleep. I have also seen Rue incense. Rue is Lithuania’s national flower.


Four Elements

This aspect was covered in the perception exercise.

Cosmic and Earthly Relationships

Rue is a favorite of the black swallowtail butterfly, while dogs and cats dislike it. It is known as a companion plant to strawberries, figs, roses and raspberries partly because it tends to help deter Japanese beetles. One site I researched mentioned NOT to plant it with cabbage, sage, mint, or any of the basils, but there was no explanation why. It is also often used in knot gardens and as a hedge because it can be pruned back into shape. Pruning should always be done in the spring or after flowering. Rue also makes a nice addition to a rock garden or in a border that is out of the way. 


Daily and Seasonal Cycles

This topic was discussed in the objective perception exercise. As mentioned there, I recorded the various stages of development with pictures, some of which are shown below.



Aug 5, 07 - Flowers in full bloom

Aug 5, 07 - Close-up of flower

Aug 5, 07 - Plant in its environment

Aug 19, 07 - Some petals starting to dry and fall off

Aug 19, 07 - Close-up of growing ovaries

Aug 19,  07 - New leaves

Sep 3, 07 - Almost all petals have dropped

Sep 12, 07 - Ovaries continue to develop and start to turn yellow

Oct 1, 07 - Color transition in the stalks

Oct 1, 07 - Ovaries continue developing

Oct 18, 07 - Ovary turning brownish

Nov 7, 07 - Ovaries opening up to reveal the seeds

Nov 15, 07 - Bottom leaves drying

Nov 15, 07 - Seeds getting ready to be released

Dec 21, 07 - General aspect of the plant

Dec 21, 07 - Ripe ovaries



Rue is native to Europe, specially the Mediterranean region, and to Western Asia, but widely distributed into all the temperate and tropical regions. It is a very popular and attractive garden shrub in South America, where it is grown not only for ornamental and medicinal reasons but also because of the belief that it provides protection against evil. I live in the Southern part of Brazil, with temperate weather, but we do have very hot summers, and the specimen I observed is indeed planted in a very sunny and rather dry spot, where it seems to be well adapted. Other healthy plants I have seen were growing in similar conditions. 


Field Study Sketches



II. Artistry with Rue: pressed flowers and arrangements

I participate of a group that makes cards with dried pressed flowers, and I felt like making some cards using Rue in different stages of development. The elements I used did not come from the flower I observed at home, because I did not want to pick any flower from it. They were given to me by friends who had Rue bushes at home. In some cases, I went to their homes to pick them myself, in others, they brought me the flowers and leaves. I pressed them for two weeks and after they had dried, I made the cards. When I was preparing the cards, some tiny seeds fell from the fruit, and I included them in the white one.



Another example of an artistic expression of Rue is a flower arrangement I made in 2005, long before I knew I would do this study. Since I like to photograph the arrangements I make, the pictures can now be included here.



Bibliographic References

IPCS – INCHEM – International Programme on Chemical Safety
- Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages
- The Historical Cookery Page
- Mountain Rose Herbs
- The Tropical Plant Catalog
- Ruta graveolens L. (arruda) - O conhecimento e suas particularidades
- The Flower Expert
- The Visual Dictionary
- Flower Essence Society
- Essências Florais Filhas de Gaia

The Flower Essence Repertory
by Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz

The Plant Study Guide
from the 2007 FES Professional Course by Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz

The Flower Essence Society 2007 Professional Course Notebook by Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz

Ruta photos: Anete B. E. Effting



Anete was born in Blumenau, a town in southern Brazil named after its founder, which also means “Garden City”; she has been surrounded by flowers all of her life. This friendly environment was a fertile ground for her love of flowers. Anete graduated in Language Teaching and Literature, and taught English as a foreign language for over fifteen years, moving both within Brazil and abroad (Argentina and USA) for family reasons. Later on, she specialized in Translation at New York University. As a result of major changes in her personal life, she was introduced to flower essences and decided to devote her life to them. She has been studying flower essences since 2004, honoring her lifelong passion, and is presently engaged in the FES Certification Program, having attended the 2007 FES Professional Course.



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