The rue plant is the common name for the ruta genus, which consists of about 40 species, and is a member of the rutaceae family and rutoideae subfamily. These strange-smelling subshrubs are native to regions of Macaronesia, southwest Asia, and the Mediterranean. The stems of these plants are woody and prostrate; the foliage is a light green to bluish green in hue, either bipinnate or tripinnate, and slightly feathery in appearance; while the flowers are tiny, yellow, and made up of four or five small petals that form atop a cyme.
The rue plant has a long history as an exceedingly helpful piece of vegetation. Although rue is best noted as one of the oldest medicinal plants grown in England, it took quite some time for it to find such a wide distribution. Some of its earliest recorded uses date back to Ancient Rome, where it was initially planted around temples as a tribute to Mars. Later, the Romans introduced it to other parts of Europe, as it was discovered that the rue plant was responsible for curing more than eighty known ailments. In Greece, Hippocrates – the well known physician – noted that this plant was the main ingredient in mithridate, a potent antidote to a number of poisons. During the time of the Black Death, many thieves robbed the fallen bodies of plague victims, but seemed to get by without any damage done. It was later learned that the immunity that these thieves received came from a homemade potion called “Vinegar of the Four Thieves,” which contained garlic, mint, wormwood, rosemary, lavender, vinegar, sage and rue leaves. This story leads into a bit of plant mythology, which stated that when the basilisk – a vicious serpent of Greek folklore – would breathe upon a garden every plant die, save for the rue. Since these plants were impervious to the vile breath of the beast, animals that were bitten by it would consume the leaves of the rue plant to soak up its immunity. In modern times, rue plants are still used to treat a number of complaints such as tired eyes, skin wounds, and arthritis. They are also used within the culinary realm, and in modern day rituals.
Rue plants carry a good deal of meaningful symbolism that ranges from health and patience, to mental endurance and pure love. Because of its unusual scent, rue plants are rarely given as gifts; however, when they are given, it is usually in the form of a wreath or small bouquet.