Rue is indigenous to Europe, but has now acclimatized to the conditions in the United States and is widely cultivated there. This evergreen shrub bears small yellow flowers. The rue has an obnoxious fragrance and has been used to thwart plague and other contagions since ancient times. The fresh leaves of this evergreen flowering shrub called Ruta graveolens L. belongs to the Rutaceae family emit such a horrid smell that people who have smelled it once will remember the scent life long. While the terrible scent of the plant keeps insects away, the herb is also used to treat insect bites. Dehydrated leaves of the rue herb have reduced aroma owing to the evaporation of the volatile oil enclosed in them. These dried rue leaves are said to have several therapeutic benefits and have been used as an anti-spasmodic to cure cramps, a calmative or sedative, an emmenagogue that helps in increasing the menstrual flow as well as an abortifacient or a drug that causes abortion.
Chemical analysis of the rue herb has shown the presence of several elements in it. The rue plant encloses approximately 1.4 per cent of a blend of quinoline alkaloids and particularly one marked arborinine that has spasmolytic or anti-spasmodic and abortifacient (something that leads to abortion) effects. Derivatives of coumarin or a fragrant chemical compound is present in large proportions both in the rue plant and the volatile oil enclosed in its leaves. These coumarin derivatives are said to possess significant anti-spasmodic properties.
It may be mentioned here that there are quite a lot of proclamations regarding the rue in the present herbal literature and they need to be clarified. For instance, there is nothing to prove the claim that any unfavorable indication owing to an excessive dosage of the medication prepared with the rue may be neutralized by dispensing a minute proportion of goldenseal (a small permanent woodland plant that belongs to the buttercup family and has a thick yellow rootstock that is used by herbalists for its healing and antiseptic properties). Another case in point is that there is a lot of skepticism over the claim that chafing fresh rue leaves on the forehead relieves headaches. However, what is definite that if one exposes his head to the sun for a prolonged period, he or she is sure to be affected by a type of dermatitis that could be even worse than a genuine headache.
While there is hardly any doubt regarding the anti-spasmodic properties of the rue plant, there is substantial skepticism regarding the usefulness and well being of using the medicine, especially when fresh rue is used. Incidentally, health officials in Germany have ruled that neither rue nor any medication prepared from the herb should be used to treat any disorder. The German health authorities have cited two reasons to substantiate their view. They have argued that while the usefulness of the herb is yet to be proved, the risk-benefit ratio of the rue plant is very hostile. It may be said that believing in the medical benefits of the rue is as absurd as the conviction that if the small pieces of flint igniting the gunpowder in an old-fashioned flintlock gun were simmered in an amalgam of rue and vervain (a herb without woody stems that grows in the wild in temperate regions), the shot would hit the mark irrespective of the aptness of the shooter or the marksman.
While rue has been in use as a medication since time immemorial, during the early days of the Roman Empire, the herb was considered to be beneficial for over 80 complaints. Referring to the utilities of the rue plant, in the first century A.D., Roman scholar Pliny stated that the use of the herb helped in protecting the eyesight and pointed out that painter and sculptures or engravers consumed a lot of rue. Hundreds of years later, in the 16th and 17th centuries, herbalists advocated the rue to be a remedy for all types of poisons ranging from toadstool to snake bites. The rue was preferred as a substance to keep away pests and insects away primarily owing to the plant's robust and stale fragrance. Interestingly, during the Middle Ages, whenever the rich went outdoors, they took along with them a small bouquet of the rue flowers to wade off the lice of vagabonds and beggars. More significantly, during the 18th century, bouquets of the rue flowers adorned the courts of law to neutralize the germs and harmful insects carried by the prisoners on their selves. Once upon a time, brushes made from the rue plant were utilized to shower the holy water in the Catholic churches before a mass, probably to ‘purify the attendants'. Owing to this peculiar practice, the rue has also been nicknamed as the ‘herb of grace'.
When the European settlers in North America introduced the rue to the locals as well as among other inhabitants there, it soon acquired the status of a common medication. Soon physicians as well as apothecaries recommended the herb of its different properties. The rue now began to be used as an anti-spasmodic to cure cramps, an emmenagogue to encourage menstruation and also as an anthelmintic to destroy worms in the intestines. These were only a few among the various uses of the herb at that time.
Although the rue has numerous medicinal benefits, it is primarily used to stimulate the beginning of the menstruation flow. In fact, rue invigorates the uterus muscles and encourages the flow of the menstrual blood. Herbalists in Europe have also used rue for treating varying conditions such as hysteria, epilepsy or medical disorder of the brain, vertigo or dizzy sensation, colic or stomach aches, intestinal worms, poisoning as well as eye problems. The use of rue to treat eye problems is very well established as an infusion prepared with the herb helps to alleviate strained and tired eyes quickly. In addition, the infusion is also reported to enhance vision. Also, herbalists have used rue to treat several other disorders such as a disease of the nervous system called multiple sclerosis and Bell's palsy.
By nature, the rue is robustly invigorating and anti-spasmodic. When taken in over doses, the herb acts as acro-narcotic venom. In addition, the herb possesses an inclination to induce vomiting tendencies in any person and hence should never be administered soon after any meal or eating anything. The rue is a beneficial remedy for treating hysterical conditions, coughs, croupy feelings, colic and flatulence that is gently associated with the stomach. To heal such conditions, the essential oil extracted from rue may be administered along with sugar or hot water.
When applied externally, the rue proves to be an active aggravation and is generally used as an ointment to be rubbed on the skin. Battered rue leaves help in alleviating the excruciating sciatica pain. In addition, the juice of the rue leaves were said to be effective in curing nervous nightmares, while when the fresh leaves of the herb are applied on the forehead, it ceases headaches. Compressed and saturated decoction prepared from the rue leaves helps in treating insistent bronchitis when applied regularly on the chest. Chewing a couple of fresh rue leaves helps in relieving any panicky headache, giddiness or dizziness, hysterical spasm or seizures and even heart palpitations (irregular or fast heart beats). In addition, chewing the leaves helps in imparting a flavor in the mouth that not only stays for a substantial period, but also helps to get rid of germs in the gums.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
The rue herb grows naturally in and around the Mediterranean region, but is also cultivated in several parts of the world as a decorative plant in the gardens as well as a therapeutic herb. The herb prefers and thrives well in open spaces and under bright sunlight. The airborne parts of the rue plant are harvested during the summer.
What is significant about the rue is that the plant grows just about in all places. However, it flourishes in somewhat protected and arid conditions. The rue is propagated by seeds. The seeds are sown in the outside during spring. The plant beds needs regular raking up to avoid weeds. When the seedlings are approximately two inches high, they need to be transplanted in fresh beds. While transplanting the seedlings in a new bed, ensure that there is a minimum of 18 inches space on all sides as the plant grows to cover large areas when mature. The plants are normally deep rooted when they are grown in partial shade. Cuttings from mature plants in spring may be planted in the soil for speedy propagation of the herb.
Rue has the capability to survive for long periods even in unfavorable conditions. The plant is not susceptible to any damage from frost during the fall even if grown in infertile, arid and worthless soil.
Rue contains about 0.5% volatile oil (including 50-90% 2-undecanone), flavonoids (including rutin), furanocoumarins (including bergapten), about 1.4% furoquinoline alkaloids (including fagarine, skimmianine, arborinine, and others). Rutin has the effect of supporting and strengthening the inner lining of blood vessels and reducing blood pressure.
The rue and medications prepared from it may be taken in different ways - infusion as well as tincture - to treat a number of complaints.
Rue vinegar for the bath
In a small saucepan, bring the water and the vinegar to a rapid boil, and throw in the herbs and the ginger. Allow to boil up once, then remove from the heat and steep overnight. Strain, then bottle. Use 1 cupful for a tub of bath water.