Herb: Rue

Latin name: Ruta graveolens

Family: Rutaceae (Rue Family, Citrus Family)

Medicinal use of Rue:

Rue has a long history of use as a domestic remedy, being especially valued for its strengthening action on the eyes. The plant contains flavonoids (notably rutin) that reduce capillary fragility, which might explain the plants reputation as an eye strengthener. Some caution is advised in its use internally, however, since in large doses it is toxic and it can also cause miscarriages. The whole herb is abortifacient, anthelmintic, antidote, antispasmodic, carminative, emetic, emmenagogue, expectorant, haemostatic, ophthalmic, rubefacient, strongly stimulant, mildly stomachic and uterotonic. The tops of fresh shoots are the most active medicinally, they should be gathered before the plant flowers and can be used fresh or dried. An infusion is used in the treatment of hysterical affections, coughs, flatulence etc. The juice of the plant has been used in treating earaches and chewing a leaf or two is said to quickly bring relief from giddiness, nervous headaches, palpitations etc. An alkaloid found in the plant is abortifacient, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic. A homeopathic remedy is obtained from the fresh herb, harvested in early summer shortly before flowering begins. This is used in the treatment of a variety of complaints including eye strain, headache and sprains.

Description of the plant:


50 cm
(1 foot)

June to


Habitat of the herb:

Rocks, old walls and dry hills, mainly on limestone.

Edible parts of Rue:

Leaves - raw or used as a seasoning. It is occasionally eaten in salads, but is strongly aromatic and slightly toxic, so should only be used in small quantities. The taste is strong and bitter. The leaves contain rutin, which has a beneficial effect upon the circulatory system. Some caution is advised, see notes on toxicity above. The leaves can be brewed into a tea.

Other uses of the herb:

The growing or the dried plant can be used to repel insects, it is most useful when the plant is grown near roses and raspberries. The dried herb can also be put in the linen cupboard to repel moths. The growing plant is also said to repel cats. A red dye is obtained from the plant. An essential oil is obtained from the leaves and young shoots, it is used in perfumery and as a food flavouring. The plant was formerly used as a strewing herb. Plants can be grown for ground cover when planted about 45cm apart each way. They can be trimmed back in spring to keep them bushy.

Propagation of Rue:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame, it can also be sown in early to mid spring in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of young shoots in late spring. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame. Very easy. Layering in early summer. Old plants often self-layer.

Cultivation of the herb:

Rocks, old walls and dry hills, mainly on limestone.

Known hazards of Ruta graveolens:

All parts of this plant are poisonous in large quantities. It should not be used at all by pregnant women since it can induce abortions. The sap contains furanocoumarins, sensitizing the skin to light and causing blistering or dermatitis in sensitive people.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.