The wild Rue is found on the hills of Lancashire and Yorkshire,
being more vehement in smell and in operation than the garden Rue.
This latter, Ruta graveolens, (powerfully redolent), the common
cultivated Rue of our kitchen gardens, is a shrub with a pungent
aromatic odour, and a bitter, hot, penetrating taste, having leaves of
a bluish-green colour, and remaining verdant all the year round. It is
first mentioned as c
ltivated in England by Turner, in his Herbal,
1562, and has since become one of the best known and most widely
grown Simples for medicinal and homely uses. The name Ruta is
from the Greek reuo, to set free, because this herb is so efficacious
in various diseases. The Greeks regarded Rue as an anti-magical
herb, since it served to remedy the nervous indigestion and
flatulence from which they suffered when eating before strangers:
which infirmity they attributed to witchcraft. This herb was further
termed of old Serving men's joy, because of the multiplicity of
common ailments which it was warranted to cure. It constituted a
chief ingredient of the famous antidote of Mithridates to poisons,
the formula of which  was found by Pompey in the satchel of
the conquered King. The leaves are so acrid, that if they be much
handled they inflame the skin; and the wild plant possesses this
acridity still more strongly.
Water serves to extract the virtues of the cultivated shrub better than
spirit of wine is able to do. The juice of Rue is of great efficacy in
some forms of epilepsy, operating for the most part insensibly,
though sometimes causing vomiting or purging.
Piperno, a Neapolitan physician, in 1625, commended Rue as a
specific against epilepsy and vertigo. For the former malady at one
time some of this herb was suspended round the neck of the
sufferer, whilst forsaking the devil with all his works, and invoking
the Lord Jesus. Goat's Rue, Galega, is likewise of service in
epilepsy and convulsions.
If a leaf or two of Rue be chewed, a refreshing aromatic flavour will
pervade the mouth, and any nervous headache, giddiness, hysterical
spasm, or palpitation, will be quickly relieved. Two drachms of
powdered Rue, if taken every day regularly as a dose for a long
while together, will often do wonders. It was much used by the
ancients, and Hippocrates commended it. The herb is strongly
stimulating and anti-spasmodic; its most important constituent being
the volatile oil, which contains caprinic, pelargonic, caprylic, and
oenanthylic acids. The oxygenated portion is caprinic aldehyde. In
too full doses the oil causes aching of the loins, frequent urination,
dulness and weight of mind, flushes of heat, unsteadiness of gait,
and increased frequency of the pulse, but with diminished force.
Similar symptoms are produced during an attack of the modern
epidemical influenza; as like-wise by oil of wormwood, and some
other essential oils.
 Externally, Rue is an active irritant to the skin, the bruised
leaves blistering the hands, and causing a pustular eruption. Gerard
says, The wild Rue venometh the hands that touch it, and will also
infect the face; therefore it is not to be admitted to meat, or
medicine. It stimulates the monthly function in women, but must
be used with caution.
The decoction and infusion are to be made from the fresh plant, or
(when this plant cannot be got), the oil may be given in a dose of
from one to five drops. Externally, compresses saturated with a
strong decoction of the plant when applied to the chest, have been
used beneficially for chronic bronchitis.
Rue is best adapted to those of phlegmatic habit, and of languid
constitutional energies. It is often employed in the form of tea. The
Schola Salernitana says about this plant:--
Ruta viris minuit venerem, mulieribus addit
Ruta facit castum, dat lumen, et ingerit astum
Coctaque ruta facit de pulicibus loca tuta.
Rue maketh chaste: and eke preserveth sight;
Infuseth wit, and putteth fleas to flight.
The leaves promote the menses, being given in doses of from fifteen
to twenty grains. Pliny, says John Evelyn, reports Rue to be of
such effect for the preservation of sight that the painters of his time
used to devour a great quantity of it; and the herb is still eaten by
the Italians frequently mingled amongst their salads. With respect to
its use in epilepsy, Julius Caesar Baricellus said: I gave to my own
children two scruples of the juice of Rue, and a small matter of
gold; and, by the blessing of God, they were freed from their fits.
The essential oil of Rue may be used for the same purpose, and in
 Formerly this plant was thought to bestow second sight; and
so sacred a regard was at one time felt for it in our islands, that the
missionaries sprinkled their holy water from brushes made of the
Rue; for which cause it was named Herb of Grace.
Gerard tells us: The garden Rue, which is better than the wild Rue
for physic's use, grows most profitably (as Dioscorides said) under a
fig tree. Country people boil its leaves with treacle, thus making a
conserve of them. These leaves are curative of croup in poultry.
In the early part of the present century it was customary for judges,
sitting at Assize, to have sprigs of Rue placed on the bench of the
dock, as defensive against the pestilential infection brought into
court from gaol by the prisoners. The herb was supposed to afford
powerful protection from contagion.
At the present time the medicinal tincture (H.) is used for the
treatment of rheumatism when developed in the membranes which
invest the bones. If bruised and applied, the leaves will ease the
severe pain of sciatica. The expressed juice taken in small quantities
is a noted remedy for nervous nightmare. A quaint old rhyme says
of the plant:--
Nobilis est ruta quia lumina reddit acuta.
Noble is Rue! it makes the sight of eyes both sharp and clear;
With help of Rue, oh! blear-eyed man I thou shalt see far and
This is essentially the case when the vision has become dim through
over exertion of the eyes. It was with Euphrasy and Rue the visual
nerve of Adam was purged by Milton's Angel.
As a preserver of chastity Ophelia was made by Shakespeare to give
Rue to Hamlet's mother, the Queen of Denmark.