Is Rue (Ruta graveolens) Edible? II
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Marlene Lines
Posted on: September 10, 2004

I posted your response on rue to that other website and notified them of the error through a link they have at the site. This is the response I got. The third link is the North Carolina State University.

> Dear Marlene Rosa,
> I found several sites that list it [rue] as toxic (in addition to being a
> skin irritant); here are a few for you to consider:
> While I am aware that people report it is edible, I think we’re
> better off erring on the side of caution within the Plants Database,
> rather than encouraging consumption of a plant that may cause serious
> illness.
> Please let us know if you have any other questions, or would like to
> discuss this further.
> Happy gardening,
> Terry []

This controversy about the danger of rue has dampened my interest in herb gardening and I think I will depend on Loblaws/IGA for my greens.

Thank you for your prompt email response before; that is a great service.

I understand your concerns. But if you only knew what’s in many of the foods you consider safe! Almost every food -- and spices especially -- have toxic or hazardous compounds in them. If you focus on the presence or absence of those compounds then you will die from worry, if not starvation. In 99.99% of case these compounds do not pose a noticeable effect, hence we "deem" the foods containing them to be safe.

In the case of rue, it does indeed contain substances that are irritating, but not to all people, and not at all levels of exposure. So, for example, if you say that pure rue essential oil is toxic I will agree immediately; but most essential oils from plants are toxic and that’s because they are highly concentrated -- hundreds or thousands of times more concentrated than they are in the plant leaves. In fact, pure essential oils can kill if used inappropriately. Take oregano oil -- if you take 4-5 drops of it you definitely will feel severe irritation in your mouth or on your skin, and if you get it in your eyes, you will do some damage. Does that mean we stay away from oregano?

I am dismayed by the practice, common among those who have little experience with the plants in question, of using toxicity and plant constituent data in a sensational manner. I have worked with rue for over 30 years and I can tell you unequivocally that it is not a dangerous plant for those who are not sensitive or know how to use it appropriately. Just as peanuts are safe for the vast majority of people while for others (my daughter included) they are a serious and potentially fatal hazard, that doesn’t mean that we cannot learn to use peanuts -- or rue -- appropriately.

The comment, "I think we’re better off erring on the side of caution," is understandable: why would anyone with no firsthand knowledge of the plant want to take a chance, especially if there are potential legal consequences from publishing information that ends up hurting someone. But, frankly, this attitude does a disservice to those (such as you) who are interested in broadening their herbal experience.

In recent years, there have been too many plants that have unnecessarily gotten a bad rap this way.

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