Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Vervain, valerian, catnip. 
These are all herbs not so well known.
Valerian is loved by rats, catnip by cats;
and vervain is loved by butterflies,
but loathed by vampires and witches.
Yet, vervain is not the only herb that vexes witches.
It shares that distinction with rue (ruta graveolens).

Rue is a pretty plant with evergreen blue lacy leaves,
a mounding habit, and yellow flowers when it's bloom time.
But rue also has some unusual qualities.

When I first planted a small herb garden,
I read somewhere that to be historically accurate,
the garden had to have a planting of rue 
 for the express purpose of keeping witches at bay.
So I planted some.
Apparently it worked well as I never had a witch darken my door.

And why wouldn't it work?
Rue is what Margaret Grieve refers to as an "anti-magical"
(See "A Modern Herbal," available here:
Anti-magicals were used as protection against spells and evil spirits.
As a bonus, Grieve says rue could bestow "second sight" 
on those who ate it.
Her entry on rue says that the plant was called "herb of grace"
because it was used to sprinkle holy water before church services.

Rue has a tiny yellow flower and lacy evergreen leaves:
Rue did have some medicinal uses in the Middle Ages; for example,
it was said to cure earache and chills, 
and  Grieve says it was once suggested as an antidote for "giddiness."
(And goodness knows, people shouldn't  get too giddy--that would be unseemly.)
But she also describes rue as having more practical uses
like killing fleas--a real concern in medieval Europe.

Rue as depicted in the Tacuinum Sanitatus:
File:Tacuin Rue35.jpg

Rue hasn't been a very popular addition in modern gardens.
Some people find its fragrance unpleasant.
Its natural oils, as with those in poison ivy, can cause severe skin blistering.
The leaves are very bitter and can upset the stomach.
Pregnant women should not eat it because of its potential for causing miscarriage.

Seed heads on the rue flower:

On the other hand, suggests
that rue leaves and seeds are an important part of cuisines in Ethiopia and the Balkans.
The Wikipedia entry also has a number of literary
and musical references that include rue.
For those interested, click here:

Rue, an interesting herb that is abhorred by witches
and disliked by cats so much
 that they won't roll in it like they do with catnip.
And that's not a bad thing.

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