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Known to Catholics as the "herb of grace" – dipped into holy water and used in blessings — garden rue is an old Mediterranean herb that was once quite popular for culinary applications. It has a somewhat bitter flavor, so today it is seldom used (though still finds a place in some Italian, Greek, Balkan, Ethiopian, and Latin American foods). It should only ever be used sparingly, as it is toxic in high doses. "La ruda", as it is known in Latin America, is mainly used medicinally and in spiritual practices, though it can also produce a red dye, is said to repel garden pests, pantry moths, snakes, and cats, and used to be used as a "strewing" herb (strewn on the floor of rooms to smell nice). It is considered a powerful plant and should be treated with great respect — it is a known abortifacient, concentrated extract can cause fatal poisoning, and some people develop a sun-induced skin rash from rubbing the plant, among many other known physiological effects. It is still used by herbalists and traditional medicine practitioners in many parts of the world. In Northeastern Italy, young branches are dipped in batter and fried, served either salty or sweet. And in the same region, and into neighboring Slovenia and Croatia, it is used to flavor grappa/raki, the disilled liquor made from the remains of pressing grapes for wine. We love its unique scent, which lingers on fingertips hours after crushing even a small bit. Luckily the smell is wonderful.
Rue is a perennial for us in Zone 7, and apparently can survive winters into Zone 6 or even 5 (it will likely die back to the ground in those colder places, but for us even tall branches can survive the winter). The plant family named for rue — Rutaceae — is most famous for including citrus fruits!
Our seeds come a few beautiful perennial plantings at El Huerto Comunitario de Bridgeton (the Bridgeton Community Garden), run by CATA, the regional farmworkers rights organization in our area (CATA stands for El Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas, which means the "Farmworker Support Committee"). We were told this strain has its roots in Mexico but has been growing as a perennial for some years now in the garden. Kathia Ramirez (holding pepper in photo) is CATA's Food Justice Coordinator and she runs the organization's gardens in Kennett Square, PA (the cultivated mushroom capital of the world) and Bridgeton, NJ, which is one of the poorest cities in New Jersey. Formerly an industrial powerhouse with thriving glass, manufacturing, and food & beverage industries, Bridgeton's population now contains many foreign-born workers who keep the nearby vegetable, nursery stock, and blueberry farms operational. The garden is an important source of healthy nutrition and organic & culturally relevant food for people who spend most of their working lives exposed to dangerous chemical pesticides amid unsafe living conditions — especially during the coronavirus pandemic. 50% of the proceeds of these seeds will go to CATA to support their food justice initiatives.