Farmworkers' Garden Rue
Farmworkers' Garden Rue
Farmworkers' Garden Rue
Farmworkers' Garden Rue

Farmworkers' Garden Rue

Regular price $3.50 Sale

Ruta graveolens

Origin: Mexico (via Bridgeton, NJ)

Improvement status: Landrace

Seeds per packet: ~35

Germination tested 12/2023: 87%

Life cycle: Perennial

Known to Catholics as the "herb of grace" – traditionally dipped in 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 it still finds a place in some Italian, Greek, Balkan, Ethiopian, and Latin American foods. It should only ever be used sparingly, however, 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 formerly was 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, like parsnip, 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 distilled 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 we find smell to be 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 of rue 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"). CATA's Food Justice Coordinators, our friends Erika Perez and Jose Spellman-Lopez, run the garden (and some of the seeds this year come from Jose's home garden too). Bridgeton 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 includes many foreign-born workers who keep the nearby vegetable, nursery stock, and blueberry farms humming along. These major industries would not be able to exist in New Jersey without the contributions of farmworkers (A.K.A. farmers without land). The CATA garden is an important source of healthy nutrition and organic & culturally-relevant food for people whose work lives expose them to dangerous chemical pesticides and unsafe living conditions.

We are grateful to CATA for all of their important work and we're proud to support them however we can. 50% of the packet price for these seeds will go to CATA to support their food justice initiatives.