|Rue with no view of the flagstone path|
Ever heard that saying? It might become all too meaningful if you are working on a hot summer day, especially while trimming back the “Herb of Grace” Ruta graveolens, AKA “Rue”. The sap from cut or bruised plants can be very irritating. Some people actually blister from it.
I was doing just such a task today, and noticed my skin feeling prickly and irritated. The plant is amenable to hedging , and was used in old knot gardens.
The smell, sometime after the first acrid whiff when the plant is injured in some way, is pleasant… and it would be my guess that this contributes to its nickname ‘Herb of Grace’.
The historically given reason for the nickname is that the Roman Catholic Church used sprigs to administer Holy Water long ago.
Indigenous to Europe, it grows very well here in Central Ohio. In fact, it seeds itself very readily and while somewhat dying back in winter, a good trimming rejuvenates the small shrubby plants for the coming season. Chemical analysis has unlocked the dominant properties of Ruta graveolens. It has alkaloids which are poisons, and a goodly amount of Coumarin, that sweet smell of cut hay- like the sweeter herb, Sweet Woodruff.
As an ancient herb, quite a few myths and rumored uses have attached themselves to its reputed qualities. I would be skeptical of many of them. Remember that lead was once used as a physic and cosmetic. Not all lore is reliable.
I’ve had rue in my garden since I started my first herb garden long ago. That garden is gone now, and rue shares the lavender walk with plantings of lavender, iberis sempervirens, white Geranium sanguineum ‘Alba’. and Lambs Ear. I like its umbrellas of chartreuse flowers and blue-bloomed foliage.
…but I do have to be a bit careful in handling it.