The Rue of Rue

According to an old Webster dictionary, copyrighted in 1958, the definition of the word Rue is;  To lament or be sorry for; repent of: n. an herb or bitter taste and strong odor, used as a medicine; bitterness; disappointment.

And I did regret weeding the rue. Several weeks ago, I was out working in the Arb Herb Gardens and I happened to see a lot of clover in with the rue.  I stepped down and weeded, weeded, weeded.  The rue had a beautiful scent and I did not discover it’s split personality until a couple of days later, when itching, blistering, and redness occurred up my forearms.  While, I’ve never experienced Poison Ivy or any poisonous plant, my reaction was severe and I believe the rue created a similar reaction of Poison Ivy or Poison Oak.  When doing some research, I discovered that the oils from the plant are activated by sunlight.  So that probably explains why it took a few days for the symptoms to appear.  In any case, after  several weeks, my forearms are pretty nasty looking (it looks like I had severe burns).  I’ve been wearing long sleeves to keep the sun at bay.  But from what I’ve read, it will take quite awhile for the skin to normalize.  The University of Illinois Extension website reported the following,

“Rue has glands throughout the plant that contain a volatile oil that reacts with the sun (specifically Ultraviolet – A) to produce itching, burning, red spots and/or large blisters in some people. Red blotches may remain for months after blisters heal. The reaction occurs within a few hours of exposure to the plant and sun. That’s the catch – the reaction requires exposure to the sun. The oils in rue are predominantly located on the surface of the leaf so oil transfer is effortless. In addition, the oils can be transferred to clothing and pets. Unfortunately, numerous other plants can cause this kind of reaction known as photo dermatitis.”

I’ve determined that the best thing I could’ve done was immediately wash my arms with soap and water to get as much of the oil off my skin and then of course, keep out of the sun. Neither of which I did, but lesson learned. I did device this simple rhyme.

Weeding the Rue                                                                                                                      Is not good for you.

Only the wise                                                                                                                              Know it’s true guise.

Though the scent is so dear,                                                                                               Blisters soon will appear.

You’ll be itching day & night                                                                                               And your skin will be quite the sight.

So keep covered from hand to toe                                                                                  Or you’ll learn the discomfort I know.


On a different note, I have been thinking of other pests or rues of the garden. A friend just told me of the big bites that have surfaced on her tomatoes. I have never understood why those darn critters take one bite out of a number of different tomatoes. Wouldn’t it be easier to just eat one entire tomato. But if animals caused less damage to our gardens, we probably never had the likess of Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny or even cute Peter Rabbit. The battles between gardeners and animals having been going on for a long time and will continue past our time. I recall a number of years ago, having several tomato plants destroyed in my garden and then one morning seeing a big fat woodchuck relaxing on our table on the deck. Our neighbor took it upon himself to chase that darn woodchuck with a shovel. I won’t say who won that battle.

Earlier this year, I read “This Organic Life , Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader” by Joan Dye Gussow. Joan complained at length about woodchucks. But the funnier thing she wrote about was when she caught a skunk in their Have a Heart trap. Hmmm, what would I do?

“Alan went out suited in his oldest pants and shirt under a pale green shop smock my father had deeded to him. Hooded, gloved, and holding a large sheet of plastic gingerly in front of him, he approached the heavy metal mesh cage, dropped the sheet of plastic over it, and waited. Nothing happened. Then he lifted the plastic draped cage by it’s handle, and I advanced to wrap the plastic under it. Since the ends of the traps are solid metal, the skunk-filled trap was now entirely enclosed. Still no spray. So Alan took another sheet of plastic, enclosed the trap even more thoroughly and tied it up with rope. No spray. In those days, there were no laws prohibiting removal of wild animals from your property, so he tied the wrapped cage onto the bicycle rack on the back of the car, and together we drove it out into the nearby woods.”

 We’ve set many Have a Heart traps in our yard to conquer the chipmunks, but I have never thought of catching a skunk. I’m not sure what I would’ve done, especially pre internet, but I did think their solution was pretty creative and effective.

Well, Herbies, Garden On.

Rue of Rue or not. Garden On.