Rue is a fine evergreen perennial for the Southern herb garden. Its striking blue-green foliage makes it an excellent accent whether your garden tends towards the gray-foliage plants or the deep rich greens. Attaining 2 to 3 feet in height, rue blooms with small yellow clusters of flowers only in its second year, but these blooms develop a charming basket-form seed pod that can be dried for long-lasting flower arrangements or wreaths.
The rue has a long history. Known also as herb of grace, it has been used since the Middle Ages in prayer gardens and religious ceremonies. It is often associated with roses, where as a companion plant its roots help fend off the larva of the Japanese beetle, which in some regions does great damage to the roots of the rose plant.
Since the leaves are strongly flavored and bitter, rue isn’t used for cooking generally, though in Middle Eastern cuisine the leaves are sometimes added to soups and stews.
You may notice what appears to be bird droppings on the leaves of the rue in your garden — these are the very unappealing larvae of the giant swallowtail butterfly! A most effective defense mechanism for this beloved and valued visitor.
NOTE: The leaves of rue can cause burn-like skin reactions to those sensitive to it, especially in the summer sun. Wear long sleeves and gloves when working with rue.