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Ruta graveolens L.

Botanical Name

Ruta graveolens L.


Ruta hortensis Mill. [10]



Vernacular Names

Malaysia Ingu [14]
English Rue, herb of grace, herb of repentance  [13]
China Chou cao [12], Yün xiang  [13]
India Sitab (Hindi); sitaba, somalata (Sanskrit)  [13]
Indonesia Godong minggu (Javanese) [13]
Japan Henruda  [13]
Korea Unhjang  [13]
Arab Arudam fejan  [13]
Turkey Sedefotou  [13]
Netherlands Ruit  [13]
France Rue, rue de jardins, rue fétide, rue officinale, rue puante, herbe de grâce  [13]
Italy Ruta, riccola, richetta  [13]
Germany Raute, edelraute, gartenraute, weinraute, gnadenkraut  [13]
Spain Ruda común [13].


Ruta graveolens is a member of the Rutaceae family. It is a perennial shrub that reaches up to 1 m high. The stems are woody at the base and herbaceous further up. The leaves are pinnate, 5-10 cm long, and aromatic. The leaflets are oblong to spatulate, somewhat fleshy, blue-green and often covered with white powdery substance. The lower leaves have longer stalks than the upper ones. The flowers are small and yellow-green, 1 cm wide, petals toothed and concave in loose clusters at top of plant [5] [8].


Native to Mediterranean region and cultivated all over India [11].

Plant Use

R. graveolens has been used as medicinal and ornamentals purpose. A long time ago artists ingested rue to improve bleary vision. The leaves are sometimes used as flavouring ingredients in some grappas. The leaves had been used to procure abortion [6].

It has been taken orally as an analgesic, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, for menstrual problems, antispasmodic, anthelmintic and abortifacient, relief of rheumatic pain and mental disorders when taken orally. Topically, it is used as hair tonic, insect repellent and for snakebite [7].

Toxic Parts

The whole plant [1].


Pilocarpine 1.4%, quinoline alkaloids, psoralens, furocoumarins (5-methoxypsoralen, 8-methoxypsoralen) derived from coumarin.

Furocoumarins are pyrimidine bases and nucleic acids in the cells can damage the skin. The injury may vary in severity from a mild redness to blisters, but with little itching. The affected area becomes pigmented and persisting in some cases long after the redness disappears [1] [2] [4] [5].

Risk Management

Gardeners and farmers growing R. graveolens are advised to wear protective clothing when handling this plant as it can cause contact or photo dermatitis  [1] [2].

Clinical Findings

Contact with the leaves of R. graveolens can cause localised sunburn. This is due to the presence of furocoumarins that sensitize the skin to long-wave ultraviolet light. The furocoumarins penetrate the skin more readily if it is wet. There is a delay of between 6 to 24 hours before the sunburn appears. This is in the form of  pruritic, erythematous, linear macules and acute vesiculobullous dermatitis. These lesions are characterised by linear erythema with sharp demarcation between the lesion and unaffected skin [1].

The use of R. graveolens infusion for induction of abortion may be accompanied by post abortion sepsis with multi organ failure and death [2].

The intake of bruised R. graveolens with brandy had resulted in violent symptoms (Dublin Medical Press) appearing within 1 hour. This includes nausea, vomiting, violent pains in and distension of the abdomen, tenesmus and frequent loose bloody  stools accompanied with strangury and dysuria. The death took place five days later [3].

Other symptoms include miosis, cholinergic crisis, headache, nausea and hypertension [4].

The essential oil can cause contact dermatitis and phototoxic reaction and severe hepatic and renal toxicity. Therapeutic doses sometimes cause depression, sleep disorders, fatigue, dizziness and cramps. Juice from fresh leaves can produce painful gastrointestinal irritation, fainting, sleepiness, weak pulse, abortion, swollen tongue and cool skin [5].


Activated charcoal, supportive therapy [4].


  1. Fuller TC. Poisonous plants of California. Los Angeles: University of California Press; 1986. p. 227.
  2. Barceloux DG. Medical toxicology of natural substances: food, fungi, medicinal herbs, plants and venomous animals. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons; 2012. p. 279-280.
  3. Cormack JR. Association medical journal Volume 2. London: New Series; 1854. p. 466.
  4. Brent J. Critical care toxicology: diagnosis and management of the critically poisoned patient. St Louis, Missouri: Mosby-Elservier; 2005. p. 129.
  5. Aronson JK. Side effects of herbal medicines. Amsterdam: Elseriver Health Sciences; 2009.  p. 206.
  6. Hanson B. Designing an herb garden. Brooklyn: Brooklyn Botanic Garden; 2004. p. 21.
  7. Saad B, Said O. Greco-Arab and Islamic herbal medicine: Traditional system, ethics, safety, efficacy, and regulatory issues. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons; 2011.
  8. Kowalchik C, Hylton WH. Rodale’s illustrated encyclopedia of herbs. Emmaus: Rodale Press; 1998. p. 433.
  9. Khare CP. Indian herbal remedies. Berlin: Springer Verlag; 2004. p. 407.
  10. The Plant List. Ruta graveolens L. Ver1.1. c2013 [cited 2014 August 25]. Available from:
  11. Khare CP. Indian medicinal plants: An illustrated dictionary. New York: Springer; 2007. p. 566.
  12. Zhou J, Xie G, Yan X. Encyclopedia of traditional Chinese medicines - Molecular Structures, Pharmacological Activities, Natural Sources and Applications: Vol. 2: Isolated Compounds D-G. Berlin: Springer;  2011. p. 501.
  13. Seidemann J. World spice plants: Economic usage, botany, taxonomy. Berlin-Heidelberg: Springer; 2005 p. 323. 
  14. Zakaria M, Mohd MA. Traditional malay medicinal plants. Kuala Lumpur: Institut Terjemahan Negara Malaysia; 2010. p. 176.

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