Notes from Diane's Garden
Or The Curious Lore and Magical Property of Plants
By Diane Fenster
March 1988: Rue
With this article, we have come full circle round the wheel of the year. I'd like to tell you all what a great pleasure it is for me to be writing these notes. Each new article brings more knowledge from the research.
A highlight of this past year was the slide lecture on garden folklore that I presented at the Philosopher's Stone Bookstore on November 28th. I hope to give this lecture again in the near future at another location, so stay tuned.
Once again, for you new readers, I welcome comments, feedback, additional information, etc. You can find me at:
Inspiration for what the subject matter of these notes will be each month is generally provided by intuition or synchronicity. For this writing, the inspiration grew out of the curiosity surrounding a beautiful specimen of Rue in Elizabeth and Piaf's garden. My thanks to them for asking questions.
There's Rue for you; and here's some for me: we may call it Herb-grace o' Sundays: 0, you must wear your Rue with a difference.
--Hamlet, act iv, sc. 5
Ruta graveolens or Garden Rue is an herb of the Sun, under the sign of Leo. The name Ruta is from the Greek reuo (to set free) because it is so useful in the treatment of disease. It is a native of Southern Europe.
It is one of the oldest herbs in cultivation. Rue is also called the "Herb of Grace" since at one time it was used to sprinkle holy water.
It is a very magical herb and as such was used in many different ways by the ancients.
The two most frequent herbs stated to be used by the witches recorded in the proceedings of the witch trials were Rue and Vervain. Rue was the chief ingredient of the antidote to Mithridates' poison. It was considered a powerful defense against witches and was also thought to bestow second sight.
The Greeks came to think of Rue as an antidote to witchcraft or fascination. It was not their custom to eat with strangers, and when forced to do so, they often became nervous and excited and developed flatulency and indigestion. This was blamed on witchcraft or the action of an evil spirit. Since Rue was found to alleviate the stomach symptoms, it was concluded that Rue was an effective charm against the strangers' spells.
Rue was also used as a preservative of the eyes. It was thought to make the sight both sharp and clear and was often eaten by painters in the Middle Ages. It is considered even more efficacious than Eyebright.
There was a custom in England for judges sitting at the assizes to have sprigs of Rue placed on their benches to ward off contagion from the prisoners.
Sprinkling rue-water about your house will kill the fleas.
Gerard states that:
"If a man be anointed with the juice of rue, the poison of wolfsbane (aconite), mushrooms, or todestooles, the biting of serpents, stinging of scorpions, spiders, bees, hornets and wasps will not hurt him."
I personally wouldn't go so far as to test any of the above however. Aconite especially is a deadly poison.
There is a superstition in the Tyrol that names Rue as one of the five plants, which when bound together, enable the bearer to see witches, or if hung over the doorstep, will prevent a witch from entering and will hold her/him there. The other plants are Broomstraw, Agrimony, Maidenhair and Ground Ivy.
Time after time I come across divination spells regarding love and marriage. Plants seem to be an integral part of these spells. Once again we find Rue being used to tell a maiden how long she will remain single. A magic wreath is made, composed of Rue, Willow and Cranesbill (a wild form of geranium). The maiden walks backwards towards a tree and tosses the wreath. The number of tosses it takes to catch on a branch is the number of years she will remain single.
As far as the garden grows, Rue is bad for cabbages and many herbs. Old wives lore says that Rue planted near sage can make the sage poisonous, or kill the sage. It may also kill any basil growing near it. Another superstition claims that Rue will prosper in your garden if your cutting was stolen from a neighbor's garden. Rue is also better grown on lean soil, it will overwinter with less damage this way.
Medicinally speaking, Rue is frequently mentioned in the Saxon Leech books and was prescribed for a great many ailments. It was thought of as one of the "heal-all" plants with its strong aromatic odor and very bitter taste. The leaves also can have a blistering effect on the skin.
It is strongly stimulating and antispasmodic. But in excessive doses it can be poisonous and because of its emetic properties should not be taken just after eating. The bruised leaves of the plant, if applied to the skin, will help allay the pains of sciatica. Fresh leaves applied to the temples will cure a headache.
Pliny claims that even weasels knew of the virtuous properties of Rue and partook of the plant in preparation for a fight with a rat or a scorpion.
The Prime Mover of the Universe