Rue - Botanicals

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005


(Ruta graveolens)

Caution! Rue is not poisonous, however it is not safe for pregnant women or for those actively attempting to conceive.

Rue grows over much of Asia and Europe. Among its folk names are “Mother of the Herbs,” indicating rue’s importance, and “weasel”’ or “weasel snout,” indicating its affiliation with that magically powerful trickster animal.

Another folk name, “Herb of Grace,” is intended to indicate that rue has been incorporated into Christian tradition; it is considered among the Virgin Mary’s blessed herbs. Rue is used to ward off malicious magic. It’s also called “witchbane” because it allegedly keeps witches away. However rue’s historical association with witchcraft, magic spells, and pagan ritual predate its associations with Christianity.

Rue is the primary plant in Italian magical traditions. It was sacred to Diana, Aradia, and Mars. In Italy and elsewhere, rue is famed for breaking the power of the Evil Eye. (Rue and weasels are among the few able to withstand the basilisk’s deadly eye.) Something as simple as a sprig of rue pinned to one’s clothing prevents the Evil Eye as well as many other malevolent spells. Among the other rue-associated Evil Eye preventatives is the Italian cimaruta amulet. Cimaruta literally means “sprig of rue.” It is an amulet formed in the shape of a sprig of rue, and usually made from silver, tin or some silver-colored metal. It is enhanced by small charms that hang from the “fingers of rue.” Most are associated with fertility such as keys, fish, crescent moons, and horns.

Rue is believed to promote clairvoyance. It was also a primary tool of protective magic. Rue’s ability to prevent malevolent magic and return negative spells may be understood to resemble that of powerful witches able to turn back malevolent spells cast by others.

Any witch powerful enough to break a malicious spell could cast one of her own, if she so chose. Rue was thus a component of ancient curses; the plant strengthening the necessary verbal component. The verb “rue” as in “you’ll rue the day you were ever born” is believed to derive from these ancient practices.

However, rue’s most recognized use from antiquity through the Middle Ages was as an herbal abortifacient. Armed with this knowledge, Ophelia’s mad scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet takes on different resonance. Shakespeare’s audience most likely would have understood the reference; this was fairly common knowledge, at the time, not obscure secret wisdom. Rue, thus, had a shadow reputation as a dangerous, frequently illicit botanical. Rue was also among the primary Midsummer’s Eve herbs.