Demystifying garden rue

Andrew Mangwarara
THE first thing that will greet you when you come into contact with it is its foul odour: that is garden rue for you. It is a plant of the rutaceae family originating from Southern Europe and botanically referred to as ruta graveleons.

Some call it the herb of grace, for priests often used it when conducting mass. In the Indian and African culture it has become common to use it as a snake repellent, no wonder the common Shona name mudzinganyoka and in Ndebele, amadlebe meaning ears. However, there are disagreements as to its effectiveness as a snake repellent.

Rue was commonly used as a culinary herb in ancient times but that has since diminished. However, it is still popular in Ethiopian cuisine. Its seeds can be mixed with porridge. Its bitter leaf can be added to eggs, cheese, fish, or mixed with plums and wine to produce a meat sauce, whilst in Italy the young branches are dipped in butter and fried in oil and eaten with sugar or salt.

Leaf infusions are taken for convulsions and fits in children whilst alcoholic tinctures were popular for respiratory problems. Rue is a beautiful garden plant that you can combine with other grey foliage plants with its striking yellow flowers it will serve some pleasant purpose in the landscape such as a small hedge in the vegetable garden.

Herb of grace is a woody perennial shrub able to grow to a metre in height. Apparently most cats and dogs dislike its smell, therefore, it can serve as a deterrent to such and to many insects as well. However, all having been said, rue can be extremely toxic to some causing various complications in high dosages. It is best to use it for external use only.

To grow this unusual plant, take hardwood cuttings 15cm long and plant them in river sand in a propagation room, avoiding excessive watering as this can lead to rotting. Seeds of rue also germinate readily after 10 to 14 days but cover the seeds lightly as they require light to germinate as in carrots.

Plant spacing for seeds can be as high as 45cm apart. It has self-seeding capabilities. Transplant the seedlings when large enough to handle to individual pots. It is an easy plant to have in the garden as it is drought resistant and able to go for a while without water doing well in a shady or full sun position. Soil pH can range from 6,6 to 8,5, quite a good range allowing you not to fuss about it. Rue is considered to be a slow grower and so some patience is required.

Grow rue with other plants such as roses or raspberries. It is not good companions with basil.  Other beliefs that were associated with rue include warding off plagues and protecting oneself from unwanted charms. It has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties as well whilst preventing cancer of the mouth.

However, pregnant woman should avoid it. Maximum dosage allowed per day should range from 0,5g to 1g. Can be used to treat coughs, colic, stomach aches, alleviate eye problems and to treat insect bites. No wonder some have called it the mother of all herbs.

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