Rue was thought to protect against plague, and since people also rubbed their floors with fresh rue to repel fleas, it probably actually did protect them. Like other bitters (wormwood, for instance), rue has been used to get rid of worms. The rutin in rue is antispasmodic and thus good for intestinal cramps and coughs. However, an excess of rue causes vomiting, can interefere with the liver, and can even be fatal; don't use during pregnancy. Fresh leaves can cause dermatitis in senstive people, especially on hot sunny days when the essential oil is strongest. It can also interact negatively with blood thinning agents. This plant is bitter enough that overdosing on it is unlikely, showing once again that most plants let us know right away if they aren't meant to be scarfed down. Top
Fresh leaves are used in cooking in very small amounts and are said to give a flavor like strong blue cheese ("graveolens" means strong smell in Latin). Rue is in the citrus family and contains lots of rutin, the same bitter stuff that is in the white parts of oranges. As a culinary herb, it is commonly encountered in ancient Roman cooking and is sometimes still used in Italy; it is a favorite in Ethiopian dishes. It goes well with acidic flavors and is added to pickles. It also flavors meat, cheese, or eggs and tastes good with olives and capers in sauces. You can get the rue flavor without its bitterness by putting it in a boiling sauce for no more than a minute and then removing it. That way only the essential oils are extracted into the sauce and not the bitter rutin. Extracting into oil should also provide less of the bitter principle. Rue sometimes flavors liquors, as in grappa con ruta. Top
In the Garden
This perennial native of southern Europe and North Africa is now naturalized in North America and the Balkans. It can be grown in pots. Some believe that growing it near other herbs renders them unfit for use, and other folks do not like its smell, which can be especially strong if the leaves are bruised. Dogs and cats hate it, but caterpillars of the black swallowtail butterly love it. It is a semi-evergreen and will get larger in warm climates. Rue can grow in poor soil, and once it is established, it can stand hot, dry sites; water regularly until it is mature, though. It is good in knot gardens because it can be pruned into a hedge (prune in spring or after flowering to encourage bushiness). It goes well with light-colored flowers and is a nice rock garden plant. Rue can grow from zones 4-9 (temperate), but mulch it heavily in winter in northern areas to protect it, especially if you do not get much snow. Top
How to grow rue
Surface sow seed (needs light to germinate) in peaty soil at 68°F (20°C) to germinate in 7-28 days. Transplant to full sun and fertile soil that is not too wet (keep well watered until it is established). This plant enjoys rocky soil. It gets 1.5-3 feet/45-60 cm tall. Prune in spring or after flowering for bushiness. Wear gloves when harvesting and don't touch leaves on hot sunny days; its essential oils can cause photodermatitis. It self-seeds easily when happy, so deadhead it if you don't want a lot more rue. It is perennial down to -40F (zone 4), but mulch in winter in the north. Once it gets going, you can propagate it by cutting off the tips of branches and rooting them. This plant can be fatal if ingested. It does not get along with mint. General growing info. Top
Various histories of this concoction exist. One is that it was invented by a family of perfumers who occupied themselves with robbing the dead during the Black Death. Another is that four thieves in 18th-century France were condemned to buy the dead during a plague, and they used garlic soaked in vinegar to keep them safe. A third is that during a bout of malaria in New Orleans robbers used this vinegar to protect themselves while breaking into houses. Antiseptic and pesticidal, this vinegar probably protected them from getting the disease by keeping off bugs. More importantly for us, this vinegar protects from magickal attack.
(You can make red wine vinegar by adding some wine vinegar to a gallon of cheap red wine and letting it sit open for a week. Old champagne makes excellent vinegar also.)
Add all the ingredients to the vinegar and let sit for a month and a day. Whether you put it in the sun or not is up to you; you could consider how much Sun influence you want this to have. Another way to encourage "digestion" is to bury the body of the bottle in the ground, leaving the neck to stick up; this emphasizes Earth qualities. Keep covered either way. Strain and spray or rub on thresholds, portals, cracks, and corners for protection against unwanted entry by anything.
Some sites discuss using Four Thieves as protection from biological warfare. White vinegar poured onto a sanitary napkin and held over the nose and mouth can neutralize some types of tear gas. Other than that, I would not stake my life on vinegar of any type protecting me from chemical or biological weapons, but it can't hurt and is a lot better than duct tape. Top
Uses in Witchcraft & Magick:
© 2004, 2013 Harold A. Roth; No reproduction without permission