Aromatic when used sparingly, this perennial plant, Ruta graveolens, which has a bitter taste that can sometimes be reminiscent of the flavour of coconut, is known primarily for its medicinal and abortifacient properties. The rue is a hardy plant.
Ruta was the name given to the plant since Roman times. Graveolens means « strongly scented », from Latin gravis: strong/potent and olere: to smell. Description and flowering period: Ruta graveolens is a bushy perennial with semi-woody stems which reaches 0.7 to 1 meter in height. The pale blue-green leaves which are persistent and slightly fleshy are composed of many trilobed leaflets. The greenish-yellow flowers have 4 or 5 petals and are borne in clusters referred to as corymbs (a flat-topped inflorescence in which all flowers are at the same level while connected to different locations on the peduncle). The black seeds are held within capsules containing 4 or 5 individual yet joined follicles (dry fruits containing many seeds).
It requires a nutrient-rich, free draining – even arid – soil in a sunny location. It is hardy to -15°C.
- Medicinal: It has abortive, digestive, antioxidant and antibacterial properties. It is also used to facilitate menstruation, increase energy (essential oil), to treat muscle pains, eye infections and flue symptoms (in homoeopathy).
- Food & drink: It is used in small doses to flavour sauces and liquors (Italy) and coffee (Ethiopia).
- Miscellaneous: It acts as a natural flee, aphid and viper repellent.
Contact with the plant can cause skin irritation and mild burns. It is mildly toxic and can be fatal if consumed in large quantities. It was formerly widely used for its abortive properties and was thus made illegal in 1921. Known for its medicinal properties since Roman times, it is one of the 4 key ingredients of the « four thieves oil », used in the fourteenth and eighteenth century to fight off the bubonic plague.
Visible at: Val Rahmeh botanical garden – MNHN