Tag Archives: Rue

A Diabolical Herb

Bible Reference: Luke 11.42.

Although used by Old Testament Israelites, the herb rue was never mentioned by Old Testament writers. Luke is the only New Testament writer who told a story about Jesus naming rue: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs; but, you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone” (Luke 11.42 NIV).

In Old Testament time, rue grew wild in fields. When Israelites harvested rue, they weren’t required by Levitical law to tithe on it. By the New Testament era, rue grew in home gardens or was bought in markets; thus, growers and sellers were required to tithe on the plant’s value. The tithe on rue was miniscule, which was a point that Jesus was making to Pharisees.

The primary rue species that grew in Israel was Ruta chalepensis know as African rue and fringe rue. When I researched rue, I learned that R. graveolens is the more common rue, grown world-wide to include in the United States.27 Many characteristics of these two species overlap; however, leaves on the graveolens species appear less dense than on the chalepensis species. Some commentators speculated that the group of three rue leaves was the source for the club suit in decks of English and American playing cards.

Rue chalepensis (2)

Rue leaves taste bitter and when bruised smell pungent. Today, rule is primarily grown for ornamental purposes. Rue is rarely used by United States chefs because of its bitter taste. Not only does rue taste bitter, it can lead to gastric pain and vomiting. Individuals who consumed large quantities died. Exposure to common rue, or herbal preparations derived from it, can results in burn-like blisters on skin.

During the Middle Ages, rue was a common ingredient in witchcraft and spell-making. Rue was a sign of recognition among witches. At one time, the Catholic Church used a rue branch to sprinkle holy water on followers; thus, rue was known as the “Herb of Grace.” Historically, rue was regarded as a protective substance. It was an ingredient in mithridate, a substance used in ancient medicine and folklore. Mithridate was an antidote for every poison and a cure for every disease.

The genus name, Ruta, may be derived from “rhutos,” a Greek word meaning “shield” in view of its history as an antidote. Alternatively, Ruta may come from the Latin word meaning bitterness or unpleasantness. The bitter taste of  leaves led to the rue plant being associated with the verb “ruewhich means “to regret.” Pharisees’ teachings were to act as a shield for common citizens of Judea to protect them from any blasphemy against God. Instead, Pharisees’ man-made laws often made the Jews rue or regret their presence in society.

Pharisees missed the point of God’s laws and actions. They had their priorities and their interpretations of God’s laws upside down and inside out. By this time in Jewish history, Pharisees had teachings of Torah and Old Testament prophets. They were aware that God didn’t require 1,000 rams, or 10,000 rivers of oil, or their first-born child as a sacrifice. God wanted men and women to act justly, to extend mercy toward their brothers and sisters, and to love God.

Reflection: Repeatedly, the Bible identified that God is our shield. A shield is defensive armor or someone who protects and defends. Paul instructed Christians to take up the shield of faith, a deep abiding confidence in God. Paul said that with the shield of faith, Christians extinguish the Devil’s flaming arrows.  Name defensive and offensive weapons you have to fight back against  Satan’s fiery darts. If you used each one of these weapons would they be sufficient to protect you from Satan’s wiles and temptations? Any weapons that you don’t need? Name weapons that you need to defend yourself against Satan that God didn’t give you?

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Rue, the Protective Herb

Jesus’ regretRue chalepensis (2) over the priorities of the Pharisees is described in Luke 11:37-44.

This entry is part of the previous one where Jesus was invited to eat in a Pharisee’s home.  Mentally, the Pharisee host criticized Jesus because Jesus did not wash his hands before eating. To the Pharisee hand washing was important not because he was concerned about hygiene, but because he care about ceremonial purity. 

Knowing what the Pharisee was thinking, Jesus attempted to show him that preoccupation with externals had little to do with real religion. Christ declared, “Woe to you Pharisees because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue, and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42). When Christ used the word “woe,” he was not calling down a curse on the Pharisees, being sly, or amusing. Christ’s “woe” was an expression of deep regret, an expression of the anguish he felt for these men. The Pharisees missed the point of God’s law. They had their priorities and their interpretation of God’s laws upside down and inside out. By this time in Jewish history, the Pharisees had the teachings of the Torah and the Old Testament prophets. They were aware that God did not require 1,000 rams, or 10,000 rivers of oil, or their first born child as a sacrifice (Micah 6:7-8). God wanted men and women to act justly, to extend mercy toward their brothers and sisters, and to love God.

Rue

The rue of the Bible is the Ruta chalepenis called African rue, common rue, and fringed rue.  Rue is native to the Middle East. In ancient Israel, rue grew wild; therefore, a tithe was not paid when the herb was used. In New Testament times, rue was grown in gardens, necessitating growers to pay a tithe on its sell. Rue can grow in almost any type of soil, but grows best in sand or clay loam. Young plants require average to moist soil; however, after plants are established they are drought tolerant.  Rue enjoys full sun. In Israel, rue grows in the northern and central parts of the country, but not in the Negev region. It can tolerate only low levels of salt; consequently, rue is not grown along the Mediterranean coastline of Israel. In ancient Egypt and Greece, it was used as to stimulate menstruation and to induce abortion. Currently, rue is used both as a condiment.  In natural medicine, rue is use as an anti-spasmodic and to strengthen eye sight. 

Symbolism: Regret, Regret

In English, its common name — rue – means regret. Historically, rue was regarded as a protective substance. It was one of the ingredients in mithridate, a substance used in ancient medicine and folklore as an antidote for every poison and a cure for every disease. Possibly the genus name Ruta is derived from “rhutos,” a Greek word meaning “shield” in view of its history as an antidote. Ostensibly, the Pharisees teachings were to act as a shield for the common citizen of Judea to protect them from any blasphemy against God and his commandments.  Instead, their man-made laws often made the Jews rue or regret their presence.

Repeatedly, the Bible – particularly Psalms – identified that God is our shield. A shield is defensive armor or someone who protects and defends. Paul instructed Christians to take up the shield of faith, a deep abiding confidence in God (Ephesians 6:16). He said that with the shield of faith, we can extinguish all of the flaming arrows of the devil. 

Reflection. Possibly Jewish citizens expected too much of the Pharisees. It is never good to rely on men or governments to shield or protect us. Who is your shield and protector?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright July 20, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

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