How to Grow and Care for Ruta Graveolens Ultimate Guide

The rue is an undemanding, evergreen ornamental shrub with health-promoting properties.

Even with the Romans and through the Middle Ages, the rue ( Ruta graveolens ) was a popular herb and, above all, a medicinal herb. There are even some rue recipes from earlier times. Nowadays the rue is mainly grown because of its use for grappa and as a heat and drought tolerant herb and as an ornamental shrub in home gardens.

Rue: Its Origin and Characteristics

The plant, also known to us as garden rue, originally comes from the eastern Mediterranean and has spread from there, so that it can now be found all over the world. The meaning of the Latin name can be daunting at first: Ruta means something like “bitter-tasting herb” and the appendix graveolens complements this with “heavy or bad smelling”. We also know the perennial as rue because its scent is reminiscent of wine. In Ruta graveolens is a highly branched, evergreen shrub, which usually is about 50 cm high. The up to 11 cm long, feathery rue leaves are particularly noticeable because of their dark, blue-green color.

When growing, it is important to know that the leaves cause phototoxic reactions and can cause severe rashes. Bees and other insects like to visit the rue flowers. They are yellow-green, are grouped in umbels and usually appear between June and October. In contrast to the strongly smelling leaves, the flowers hardly smell. Even though Ruta graveolens comes from the Mediterranean region and can therefore cope well with heat, it can even withstand temperatures as low as – 28 ° C. Therefore it is usually not a problem in our gardens to grow rue for several years.

How to Grow and Care for Ruta Graveolens Ultimate Guide

The location preferred by vineyards is sunny and rather dry and has a loose, nutrient-poor, but calcareous substrate. For the cultivation of rue in the garden, it is therefore advisable to mix humus-rich, loamy or clay garden soil with sand and lime. This improves drainage and makes the soil looser, leaner and more alkaline. The rue is sown in seed trays from March or directly outdoors from April. The seeds are sown about 0.5 to 1 cm deep. They germinate at an optimal temperature of 10 to 18 ° C within 2 to 3 weeks. In the open field, a distance of 30 cm between the individual plants should be maintained.

Tip : Ruta graveolens can also be grown in pots . Soil should be mixed with a little lime and 30 percent sand or perlite. When growing, make sure that you use a sufficiently large pot with at least ten liters capacity. In any case, overwinter rues in the pot frost-free. In this container there is a greater risk that the roots will freeze through and the plant will die.

Watering rue

The average water requirement of the rue should be satisfied by regular watering . The perennial can also handle it well if the soil dries up in between. The only thing that should be watered directly after planting is a little more often until the plant has grown well.

Fertilize rue

Too much fertilizer is more damaging to rue than it is helping. If the frugal plant grows in a tub, repotting in fresh soil can be recommended. If you add a small amount of a primarily organic slow-release fertilizer such as organic universal fertilizer , a nutrient reserve is created until the next repotting.

Cutting rue

A cut is also not absolutely necessary. If anything, it should be done in the spring before re-sprouting. In February or March, shoots can be cut back so far that a pair of buds remains. From this the plant can sprout again and continues to grow compactly. Rues in pots that are overwintered frost-free can, however, also be cut back in autumn.

Is the rue hardy?

As a rule, rue plants in the garden can withstand temperatures of up to – 28 ° C, which is why rue plants are perennial here. However, the rue herb should be overwintered frost-free in the pot, as the roots are less well protected here. This is best done in a bright and cool place.


The easiest way to multiply the rue is via seeds. To do this, you harvest the five-faced capsule fruits in autumn, preferably when the weather is rather dry. The black, crescent-shaped rue seeds are removed, dried for two days and stored in a cool and dry place over the winter. In spring sowing can be done as described above.
In addition, rue can be propagated by dividing sticks or cuttings. The best time to split is in autumn.

Young, semi-woody shoots are used for cuttings in summer or autumn. After the lower leaves have been removed, the shoots are placed in potting soil mixed with sand in a ratio of 1: 1. Then keep the soil permanently moist, but not wet. After the cuttings have spent the first winter indoors in a light, rather cool location at around 20 ° C, they can be planted in their final place in the garden the following spring.

Is the rue poisonous?

The effect of rue is usually described as beneficial to health, but you have to be very careful both when growing and using it. Because the leaves of the rue have phototoxic properties. This means that if they come into contact with the skin, they can lead to severe irritation and blister-like rashes. Therefore you should always wear gloves when working with rue and wash your hands and arms thoroughly afterwards. When using the rue one must also proceed very sparingly. Because if too large quantities of it are eaten, the garden rue is poisonous. Pregnant women in particular should refrain from taking rue, as it can cause early labor and miscarriage.

Harvest, use and effects of rue

It is advisable not to harvest the plant or to harvest only a little in the first year of cultivation so that it can establish itself well. From the second year onwards, fresh leaves can be harvested from May onwards. For example, if you want to create a supply for making rue tea, you can also cut back individual stems up to 10 cm above the ground and dry them as a whole. The medicinal properties of rue are said to be antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and lowering blood pressure. Such are the areas of application of the Ruta graveolens including arthritis, joint pain, headache and toothache, varicose veins or sleep disorders. Rue can also be used as a spice for hearty dishes and stews. Use rue very sparingly, because on the one hand its strong, bitter taste is strongly dominant and on the other hand it can cause discomfort in larger quantities. In addition, the use of rue should always be clarified with a doctor because of its medicinal properties.

Rue against rats and cats: The leaves of the rue give off an intense scent, which not only humans sometimes find unpleasant. Some insect pests, rats and cats do not like the smell either. So if you want to keep these animals away, you can also plant the rue against cats and rats.