Rue, from ruta, the ancient Latin and present botanical name of a genus of plants, one species of which, the common rue (R. graveo-lens), has long been cultivated, and is now occasionally seen in old gardens. The genus ruta comprises about 40 species, which are natives of the Mediterranean region and western Asia; it gives its name to the rutaceoe, a family of polypetalous exogens which, under the recent revision of Hooker and Bentham, is a large and important one, as they have included in it the orange family and others of Jess importance, and it now consists of over 80 genera, numbering some 650 species. The only representatives of this family indigenous to the northern states are prickly ash and hop tree, which are described under their titles. The common rue, from the south of Europe, is hardy in the northern states; it is a half shrubby plant, with alternate, pinnately divided leaves, which are of a bluish green and strongly marked with transparent dots or glands containing an oil of a powerful and unpleasant odor; the greenish yellow flowers are produced all summer in small corymbs, the first flower which opens in each cluster having its parts in fives, and all the others in fours; stamens twice as many as the petals, inserted at the base of a glandular disk which surrounds and elevates the compound pistil; fruit a four- or five-lobed, many-seeded pod.
Rue was formerly held in high repute, and was thought by the ancients to prevent contagion; it is still somewhat employed in domestic medicine, though it is too dangerous to be carelessly administered; its properties are due to the oil contained in the leaves, which is so acrid that persons with delicate skin are blistered by handling it, and children in playing with it have suffered from its effects. Rue is at present comparatively little used. It is called antispasmodic, and has been used in hysteria as well as in colic and in dysmenorrhaea. It has also been employed to procure abortion, acting like most drugs of this class with great and even dangerous violence. The fresh plant is eaten in some parts of Europe as a condiment and in salads, it being thought to strengthen the sight. The "vinegar of the four thieves," used by robbers in France to enable them to carry on their thieving during the plague, contained rue. Like rosemary, rue was formerly employed in religious ceremonies, for which reason Shakespeare speaks of it in two of his plays as "herb of grace." - Meadow rue is a name for several species of thalictrum, of the ranunculus family, which have none of the properties of common rue.
Garden Rue (Ruta graveolens).