In Texas we tend to favor plants that are hardy and can withstand searing heat in summer and icy cold in winter. If that’s what you’re looking for then rue is the herb for you.
Rue (Ruta graveolens) is a hardy perennial herb native to the Balkan Peninsula. It grows into a bushy mound 2-3 feet high. The small leaves are blue-green and oval with a distinctly medicinal scent. One source says that the shape of rue leaves was the inspiration for the clubs suit in the deck of playing cards. In mid-summer this herb is sprinkled with flowers that have small yellow petals and a noticeably spherical green center.
Rue prefers full sun and soil with good drainage. Because of its size, rue is best planted in the back of your herb border where it will provide a backdrop of contrasting color. It is also best kept out of the way from casual visitors because the leaves can cause contact dermatitis (rash, irritated skin) in some sensitive individuals. Until you know if you are one of these unfortunate souls, use gloves when handling it.
Rue has a venerable history of medicinal uses. Its name comes from the Greek word meaning “to set free,” which refers to its reputed ability to free sufferers from diseases. One ancient author listed over eighty disorders which could be treated with this herb. It was also later regarded as an effective charm against witchcraft, perhaps because of its association with early Christian practice of using it to sprinkle holy water on parishioners. It is this connection with sanctification that gave it the name “herb of grace.”
Rue is still sometimes used in homeopathic medicine for skin and muscle inflammation, earaches, toothaches, and even intestinal problems. However it should always be administered carefully by trained herbalists. Too much rue can cause vomiting, sleep disorders, fainting, and a host of other undesirable side effects.
If you want a hardy, drought tolerant herb to add to your garden this fall, look no further than rue. Its blue-green leaves and yellow flowers will grace your garden for many years to come.