Friday, December 08, 2017

Santa Lucia in Scandinavia (13.December)

The Scandinavion tradition with Lucia processions is relatively new and origins from 1928, where a Swedish newspaper graded "Stockholm's Lucia". Today each Swedish town has its own Lucia, who each year is graded Lucia long before 13 December. All the Lucias take part in a competition as "Swedens Lucia", a title which don't just mean to drive in a cortege to Skansen in Stockholm, but that the lucky girl gets a pr-tour to Italy and Syracusa where Lucia came from.

The Swedes have actually celebrated the Lucia night  ("lussenat") since the 1600-1700s, especially in the western part of the country, where tradition says that the young girls in the farm wake everyone with coffee and bread in the dark early morning. In Sweden the tradition has been cultivated with the special Lucia "lussebröd", a bun,  which is shaped like a wreath with four loops and spiced with saffron.

The Santa Lucia celebration song is a Sicilian folksong in the honour of Lucia, but the Scandinavian text is not so much about the historic Lucia, rather about the Swedish tradition where the Lucia Bride carries a tray with food to "those in need". Maybe this comes from the old legend, where Lucia brought food to the Christians in the catacombs during the persecutions. Lucia has nothing to do with Christmas which is seen in the Lucia songs. Sweden has lots of Lucia songs while the Danes only know a single one ( about the locality Lucia south of Napoli.) The first Lucia procession in Denmark was during the German occupation in WWII, and since then it has become a permanent part in Danish schools, but the Lucia feast in Denmark has never reached the same importance as in Sweden.

The story about Lucia begins in 283 at Sicily in the town Syracusa. Her family was well off and her  prospects were good, but at a young age Lucia conversed from the Roman religion and was baptized, which later cost her life. Sicily was a part of the Roman Empire -  and in order to maintain peace the inhabitants had to sacrifice to the emperor. The Christians denied to bring these sacrifices.

The Romans considered Christianity a dangerous religion and an enemy of the Roman empire, and the Christians were tortured and executed in the most brutal way. Many Christians lived a secret life where they either hid their faith or lived underground in the catacombs. Lucia helped her fellowmen. At night she brought food to the Christians in the catacombs -  and in order to find way in the dark she wore a wreath upon her head with lit candles.

According to customs she was promised to a man, who was a Roman from a reputable family, but she rejected the husband and the marriage. Her faith and her vow to God were incompatible with marriage, but in the eyes of the Roman her reasons were not just ridiculous, but also dangerous, and he indicated her to the authorities. Lucia would not sacrifice to the emperor and she was convicted guilty. At first she was sent to a brothel, but by divine intervention she was being protected. She was  then exposed to torture and sentenced to die at the stake, but once again God intervened. At last the judge took his sword and stuck her, and she died on 13. December year 304. 
Lucia was buried in her hometown Syracusa and as early as in the 400s she is mentioned in written sources. In the 600s where Christianity now was a state religion in the Roman kingdom she was a part of the Catholic liturgy. Her celebration day is the day of her death on 13. December, which is celebrated as a light feast in Scandinavia, especially in Sweden and Denmark. According to tradition the Lucia Bride walks in front of the light procession wearing a crown with candles upon her head. This is the virgin crown as a memory about Santa Lucia who gave her life to God as the bride of Christ .

Santa Lucia is connected to more than light and joy. She has become the patron saint for blind people and people with eye diseases. She is often displayed with a small bowl containing two eyes.

humorous drawing from 1848 by Fritz von Dardel

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Poinsettia/ Julestjerne

Euphorbia pulcherrima

Poinsettia/ Julestjerne  is an ornamental plant originally from Mexico . It is  a commercially important plant and is widely used in Christmas floral displays. It derives its common English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the US in 1825.

Poinsettia is a shrub or small tree, typically reaching a height of 0.6–4 metres (2–13 ft). The plant bears dark green dentate leaves that measure 7–16 centimetres (2.8–6.3 in) in length. The colored bracts—which are most often flaming red but can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white, or marbled—are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors, but are actually leaves. The colors of the bracts are created through photoperiodism, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. At the same time, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color.

Young plants are partly succulents. The short branches are from beginning herbel-like and juicy, but they gradually turn wooden-like. The barch is first olive green, but later greyish brown with crevices. The upperside of the leaves is dark green, while the underside is light green. 
The flowers of the poinsettia are unassuming and do not attract pollinators. They are grouped within small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch, and are called cyathia.

Like in other plants of the spurge family (vortemælkfamilien) the juice is latex-containing and white. People with latexallergy must avoid to get the juice on their skin. The plant iself is only vaguely poisonous .

There are over 100 cultivated varieties of poinsettia.

In areas outside its natural environment, it is commonly grown as an indoor plant where it prefers good morning sun, then shade in the hotter part of the day. Contrary to popular belief, flowering poinsettias can be kept outside, even during winter, as long as they are kept frost-free. It is widely grown and very popular in subtropical climates.

The plant requires a daily period of uninterrupted long, dark nights followed by bright sunny days for around two months in autumn in order to encourage it to develop colored bracts. Any incidental light during these nights (from a nearby television set, from under a door frame, even from passing cars or street lights) hampers bract production. Commercial production of poinsettia has been done by placing them inside a greenhouse and covering the latter completely to imitate the natural biological situation.

Poinsettias are susceptible to several diseases, mostly fungal, but also bacterial and parasitic.

The poinsettia is native to Mexico. It is found in the wild in deciduous tropical forests at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to Guatemala.
The species is naturalized in many other tropic districts.  

The poinsettia has been cultivated in egypt since the 1860s, when it was brought from Mexico during the Egyptian campaign. It is called bent el consul, "the consul's daughter", referring to the U.S. ambassador Joel Poinsett

The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic medication. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the plant is called Cuitlaxochitl, meaning "flower that grows in residues or soil". Today it is known in Mexico and Guatemala as Flor de Noche Buena, meaning Christmas Eve Flower. In Spain it is known as Flor de Pascua or Pascua, meaning Easter flower.

In Chile and Peru, the plant became known as Crown of the Andes.  In Turkey, it is called Atatürk's flower because Atatürk, the founder of the Republic, liked this flower and made a significant contribution to its cultivation in Turkey.  In Hungarian, it is called Santa Claus flower, and it's widely used as a Christmas decoration.
The plant's association with Christmas began in 16th-century Mexico, where legend tells of a girl, commonly called Pepita or Maria, who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday and was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar.  Crimson blossoms sprouted from the weeds and became poinsettias.

From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations.The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the Blood Sacrifice through the Crucifixion of Jesus.

Poinsettias are popular Christmas decorations in homes, churches, offices, and elsewhere They are available in large numbers from grocery, drug, and hardware stores. In the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Mortensaften/ St. Martin's Evening!

Mortensaften 10. November is celebrated in memory of the bishop Martin of Tours, who really did not want to become a bishop and hid himself in a goose sty - which meant death to the noisy geese!

Morten Bisp/ Martin of Tours:
Martin of Tours, fresco, Elmelunde church, Møn/foto:gb
Martin of Tours lived in the 300s in the Roman Empire where he was born ab. 336 by Roman parents. He joined the Roman army when he was fifteen and came to Gaul, where the legends about him soon began to flourish. He helped the poor, healed the sick and woke up the dead, he became famous and was considered a holy man. When Martin was twenty years old, he left the army and became a monk. He returned to Hungary to try to convert his countrymen, but the story tells that he only succeeded in converting his mother. He was persecuted and droven back to Gaul, where he settled down in a monastery at Poitiers. He lived a pious and quiet life and won the reputation of being a good and holy man.

geese/ foto:gb
He was so popular that the people of Tours wanted to elect him bishop, but Martin was not interested. When the inhabitants of the town came to elect him, he hid himself in a goose sty, but the geese did not like this visit. They were cackling and screaming and Martin was revealed and forced to assume office as bishop of Tours. He had now the power to arrange a revenge: All households had to  - once a year - to slaughter at least one goose and eat it on the day where he was revealed in the goose sty. He got his revenge on the big-mouthed geese.

Martin was also called the apostel of Gaul. He died in Candes in France 8 November 397 and was buried in Tours 11 November. A big church was built over his grave and he was later canonized. His death date became his Saint's day, which is still celebrated all over Europe.

The story about Martin of Tours and the geese was printed in Denmark for the first time in 1616, a long time after the reformation. The St. Martin survived the reformation with a new Danish name: Morten Bisp. The night of 10th november, now called Morten's Evening, was appropriate, because November was perfect for a party, since the slaughter period in November was one of few times, where people had fresh meat before winter. Else they had salted food for months.

Goose was food for rich people :
Medieval feast/ wikipedia
The traditional food on Morten's Evening was goose or duck in the old days. The goose was not an ordinary dish in Denmark, it was rich people's food - and common people started eating other poultry instead. The story about Martin of Tours and the geese is probably much earlier than the traditional November-goose. In Germany and France the wine harvest is celebrated in November, which also is a slaughter-month since the animals are fat after a long summer's good food. Martin became the Saint of the wine growers, and gradually the roast goose and the wine drinking were connected to the Martin's festivals  - and a good story like the story about Martin and the geese is not to be scorned.

Italian kitchen,Ferrara 1549, Runeberg

16th century: The goose is one of the earliest domestic animals and one of the most important slaughter animals, although it was always food for the rich. The ordinary farmer's family might breed geese, but they sold them in the next town after having taken wings and feathers (for brooms and quills) and the down ( for duvets and pillow stuffing). They also kept the head, neck and craw to themselves for a good portion of giblet soup. If they kept a whole goose, the breast meat was removed and smoked as a cold cut for guests.

But according to the advertizing from the supermarkets no one eats goose today. There are lots of Morten's Ducks in the cold counters, but no Morten's Goose.  So the popular roast Mortensand, which we enjoy on Mortensaften 10th of November, was once a Morten's Goose.

Velbekomme - Mortensand

copyright grethe bachmann

source:;; Dagligt liv i Norden i det 16. århundrede,; 2640 online portalens almanak og kalender.  

photo: grethe bachmann; 
photo copies from wikipedia
drawing: Italian kitchen Ferrara in 1549, Dagligt liv i Norden i det 16 århundrede,

Friday, September 22, 2017

Quote of the Day - Astrid Lindgren

Astrid Lindgren/Photo: Den Store Danske

A childhood without books – that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy.”

Astrid Lindgren

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Serious Insect Crisis

 When do we wake up?

Queen of Spain Fritillary/Storplettet Perlemorsommerfugl/ photo GB

Butterflies and other insects are rapidly declining everywhere in Europe - and not least in Denmark. Scientists point, among other things, to pesticides, monoculture and lack of space as reasons.
A new investigation published in the prestigious journal Science shows that the insects of Europe disappear -  this is even a talk about an ecological collapse. The German scientists have examined the insect occurrence in more than 100 nature reserves in western Europe - and the insects are extinct even in the nature reserves. The biomass of insects have fallen with more than 80 %.

The drastic decline for the insects of Europe could mean a decline in the number of birds, which has already been identified in Denmark, where since the 1970s four out of five partridges, three out of four lapwings and more than half the skylarks have disappeared. Huge areas - which earlier was nature- were ploughed without putting something else instead -  and at the same time we experience the climate changes.

Sad but true -many Danish politicians apparently do not care, on the contrary there is a support for that Denmark - as one of few countries of EU - fights against a ban on pesticides, ( because the Danish agriculture demands it), which could represent a risc both to ourselves and the wild bees.

It is said that the approval of spraying in Denmark is tough, but in the approval is alone considered if a substance is representing a risc for the ground water or if it is exceeding limits in our food. It is not  evaluated what happens upon the ground and it is not taken into account that herbicides like Roundup, which is the most used in Denmark,  simply removes all plant growth where it hits -  or that 2.500 tons various active substances are spread over 60 % of Denmarks area each year -  or that the agriculture is allowed to use almost 1.000 various products.

This means that organisms in the earth, the wild plants of the fields and the insects upon the plants and the birds who live by the insects are being pushed more and more in the intensive Danish farm land. This happens in a degree where we are the witness of a slow collapse of ecological balances in the whole open countryside. This also applies to nature reserves.


Source: Excerpt of article by Ella Maria Bisschop-Larsen, Præsident for Danmarks Naturfredningsforening, Journal "Natur og Miljø",  September 2017. 

Bumblebee/ photo:GB

An ecological study in Western Germany. 
The amount of insects collected by monitoring of traps in Orbroicher Bruch nature reserve in north west germany decreased by 78% in 24 years.

Each spring since 1989 insect traps have been set up in meadows and woodlands in Orbroicher Bruch nature reserve and 87 other nature areas in the West German state Nordrhein-Westfalen.

Recently the scientists presented alarming results: The average biomass of insects caught during summer was decreased from 1,6 kilo pr. trap in 1989 till only 300 gram pr. trap in 2014.

"The decline is dramatic and depressing and this applies to all kinds of insects, including butterflies, wild bees and hoverflies ", says Martin Sorg, who is entomologist from  Krefeld Entomological Society, which is responsible for the monitoring project.

Several other studies from the western part of the world support the results from Germany.

The insects disappear everywhere.

Grethe Bachmann
Source/ Natur og Miljø, September 2017 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017

European Birthwort/ Hjertebladet Slangerod

Aristolochia clematitis

European Birthwort 1885/ wikipedia
The (European) birthwort, (DK: Hjertebladet Slangerod)  is a twining herbaceous plant in the Aristolochiae family, which is native to Europe. The leaves are heart-shaped and the (carrion smelling) pale yellow flowers are tubular in form. The plant seeks light by ascending the stems of surrounding plants. It is connected to light-open habitats with dry and warm soil which has a high contents of nutrients and calcium. In Denmark it is cultivated in gardens and parks and is sometimes seen growing wild, especially at kloster sites and castle ruins. Autumn colour yellow-brown.

European birthwort/wikipedia
The name Aristolochia comes from the Greek word aristos which means best and lochia which means birth. The plant was known in the classical antiquity to start births . The Danish name slangerod refers to its use against snake bites.

Folk Medicine 
Birthwort was used in a decoct which was drunk as a sweat- and diuretic means; a decoct was also drunk against against jaundice and leaves and roots for healing wounds. The plant contains a substance which activated the white blood cells.  The root was stuck in the abdomen to promote birth.

Because of similarity to slangeurt (Polygonum bistorta) and corydalis (lærkespore) it is in early literature difficult to identify the botanic species.

Kloster garden(/ photo: GB
Harpestræng ab. 1300:
The physicians often distinguished between the drugs Aristolochia longa (DK: lang hulurt) and Aristolochia rotunda ( DK: rund hulurt) and Aristolochia clematitis (European birthwort/hjertebladet slangerod.)
A. rotunda: to drink with wine after poisonous bite; it drives out the afterbirth; to drink with water for cough; crushed as a cover on gouts; mixed with honey as a wound healing cover; to drink for fever; used as a smoking against insanity.

Christiern Pedersen 1533:
crushed plant to drink with wine or beer for breast pain; vinegar decoct as a cover for stomach pain; crushed root with wine or beer against malaria , to drink with wine after snake bite.
Henrik Smid 1546:
cooked with myrrha and pepper in wine for drink to drive out the afterbirth and all filthiness; wine decoct cleans and heals all internal wounds and broken lungs, liver and uterus; fresh crushed root used as cover drives out thorns, arrows etc. from wounds and heals it. A. rotunda to drink with wine against the plague, drives out sweat and urine and counteracts jaundice; crushed seeds with a drink against diarrhea.  Barbers used the root to heal and dry all runny wounds.
Simon Paulli 1648:
root to make the flesh grow after abscesses; the root is good for itching and scabies; decoct of leaves and roots for bathing mange and wounds on hands and feet. Some say the leaves should be smoked under newborn babies if they looked fragile and sick.

The rootstock of Aristolochia longa and Aristolochia rotunda were written into the Pharmacopoeia in 1772. 

Livestock: the plant was also used in diseases of the livestock: cattle, horse, swine, sheep and poultry.

The plant was revered by ancient healing book- authors who recommended it against snake bites.  Having a root in the pocket as an amulet against toothache.

European Birthwort/ wikipedia
Poisonous Plant:
It was formerly used as a medicinal plant, though it is poisonous , and is now occasionally found established outside of its native range as a relic of cultivation. It is now thought to be the cause of thousands of kidney failures in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia where the plant is thought to be unintentionally consumed through contaminated flour. Urinary tract malignacies among those who have consumed the plant are also reported. The link between renal failure and aristolochid acid, which the plant contains, was discovered after a clinic for obesity in Belgium, some of the patients experienced kidney failure.

Because of its toxicity it must be warned to use the plant or parts of it as a natural medicine.

All parts of the plant are considered carcinogenic (kræftfremkaldende) and kidney damaging. 

Danske Klosterurter, Anemette Olesen, Aschehoug 2001. 
Brøndegaard, Dansk Etnobotanik, Folk og flora, bd. 3, 1978-80.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Friday, September 08, 2017

Anna Pavlova - a legendary Ballerina

Anna Pavlovna (Matveyevna) Pavlova was a Russian prima ballerina and the first ballerina to tour ballet around the world. She was born on February 12, 1881 in Saint Petersburg to a single mother. Anna's mother married when Anna was three years old, and her stepfather Matvey Pavlov adopted her and gave her his surname. Her mother took her to the theater to see the ballet "The Sleeping Beauty" and Anna never forgot. She wanted to be a ballerina and came on audition for the Imperial Ballet School, where she was accepted at age 10 in 1891. Her training years were difficult, but she did not give up the training in order to improve her technique. She took lessons from the best teachers. In 1898 was her final year at the Imperial Ballet School and she performed many roles with the principal company. She graduated in 1899 at age 18 and made her official debut. Her performance drew praise from the ctitics.

Pavlova performed in various ballets. Her enthusiasm often led her astray: once during a performance  she lost her balance, and she ended up falling into the prompter's box. Her weak ankles led to difficulty while performing as the fairy Candide in Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty . Once during class she caused her teacher to fly into a rage. He told her "you have to leave acrobatics to others. I beg you to never again try to imitate those who are physically stronger than you". Pavlova rose through the ranks quickly and she was named danseuse in 1902, première danseuse in 1905, and finally prima ballerina in 1906 after a resounding performance in Giselle.

Anna Pavlova is perhaps most renowned for creating the role of the Dying Swan, a solo choreographed for her by Mikhail Fokine . The ballet, created in 1905, is danced to Le Cygne from The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns. She also choreographed several solos herself, one of which is The Dragonfly, a short ballet set to music by Fritz Kreisler. In the first years of the Ballets Russes, Pavlova worked briefly for Sergei Diaghilev. Originally she was to dance the lead in Mikhail Fokine's The Firebird, but refused the part, as she could not come to terms with Igor Stravinsky's avant-garde score, and the role was given to Tamara Karsavina. All her life Pavlova preferred the melodious "musique dansante" of the old maestros and cared little for anything else which strayed from the salon-style ballet music of the 19th century.

By the early 20th century she had founded her own company and performed throughout the world, with a repertory consisting primarily of abridgements of Petipa's works, and specially choreographed pieces for herself. In 1916 she produced a fifty-minute adaptation of The Sleeping Beauty in New York City. Members of her company were largely English girls with Russianized names. She also performed many ‘ethnic’ dances, some of which she learned from local teachers during her travels. In addition to the dances of her native Russia, she performed Mexican, Japanese, and East Indian dances. In 1915, she appeared in a film, The Dumb Girl of Portici, in which she played a mute girl betrayed by an aristocrat. Pavlova was introduced to audiences in the United States by Max Rabinoff during his time as managing director of the Boston Grand Opera Company from 1914 to 1917 and was featured there with her Russian Ballet Company during that period.

Victor Dandré, her manager and companion, was her husband. He wrote of Pavlova's many charity dance performances and charitable efforts to support Russian orphans in post WWI, Paris...who were in danger of finding themselves literally in the street. They were already suffering terrible privations and it seemed as though there would soon be no means whatever to carry on their education. Fifteen girls were adopted into a home Pavlova purchased near Paris at Saint-Cloud. During her life she had many pets including a Siamese cat, various dogs and many kinds of birds, including swans. Dandré indicated she was a lifelong lover of animals and this is evidenced by photographic portraits she sat for which often included an animal she loved. A formal studio portrait was made of her with Jack, her favorite swan.
After leaving Russia, Pavlova moved to London, settling, in 1912, at the Ivy House on North End Road, north of Hampstead heath, where she lived for the rest of her life. The house had an ornamental lake where she fed her pet swans, and where now stands a statue of her. The house was featured in the film Anna Pavlova. While in London, Pavlova was influential in the development of British ballet. While touring in Hague Pavlova was told that she had pneumonia and required an operation. She was also told that she would never be able to dance again if she went ahead with it. She refused to have the surgery, saying "If I can't dance then I'd rather be dead." She died of pleurisy, in the bedroom next to the Japanese Salon of the Hotel Des Indes in The Hague, three weeks short of her 50th birthday. Victor Dandré wrote that Anna Pavlova died a half hour past midnight on Friday, January 23, 1931, with her maid Marguerite Letienne, Dr. Zalevsky and himself at her bedside. Her last words were, "Get my 'Swan' costume ready".

In accordance with old ballet tradition, on the day she was to have next performed, the show went on as scheduled, with a single spotlight circling an empty stage where she would have been. Memorial services were held in the Russian Orthodox Church in London. Anna Pavlova was cremated, and her urn was at Golders Green, adorned  with her ballet shoes (which have since been stolen).

The Pavlova Dessert is believed to have been created in honour of the dancer in Wellington during her tour of New Zealand and Australia in the 1920s. The nationality of its creator has been a source of argument between the two nations for many years.

The Jarabe Tapatio, known in English as the 'Mexican Hat Dance', gained popularity outside of Mexico when Pavlova created a staged version, for which she was showered with hats by her adoring Mexican audiences. Afterward, in 1924, the Jarabe Tapatío was proclaimed Mexico's national dance.

In 1980, Igor Carl Fabergé licensed a collection of 8-inch Full Lead Crystal Wine Glasses to commemorate the centenary of Anna's birth. The glasses were crafted in Japan under the supervision of The Franklin Mint. A frosted image of Anna Pavlova appears in the stem of each glass. Originally each set contained 12 glasses.

Pavlova's life was depicted in the 1983 film Anna Pavlova.

Pavlova's dances inspired many artworks of the Irish painter John Lavery. The critic of The Observer wrote on 16 April 1911: 'Mr. Lavery's portrait of the Russian dancer Anna Pavlova, caught in a moment of graceful, weightless movement … Her miraculous, feather-like flight, which seems to defy the law of gravitation'

When the Victoria Palace Theatre in London, opened in 1911, a gilded statue of Pavlova had been installed above the cupola of the theatre. This was taken down for its safety during WWII and was lost. In 2006, a replica of the original statue was restored in its place.

A McDonnell Douglas MD-11 of the Dutch airline KLM with the registration PH-KCH carried her name. It was delivered on August 31, 1995

Anna Pavlova appears as a character in Rosario Ferre's  novel Flight of the Swan.

Anna Pavlova appears as a character in the fourth episode of the British series Mr. Selfridge, played by real-life ballerina Natalia Kremen.

photo: from wikipedia

Quote of the day - Mark Twain

If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.

Mark Twain

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Common Rue; Herb-of-Grace/ Almindelig Rude

Ruta graveolens

Common Rue(Almindelig Rude) 
Ruta graveolens, commonly known as rue, common rue or herb-of-grace, is a species of ruta grown as an ornamental plant or herb. It is an aromatic half shrub with a loose, bushy growth and with yellowish-green leaves and small yellow flowers. The yellow flowers arrive in June-August; the fruits are capsules with many seeds. The root system has many heavy and deep roots with few side roots. It is native to the Balkan Peninsula; it grows in dry regions and has adjusted the Mediterranean climate. 

The name ruta comes from the Greek word yte, which means window (Danish: rude) and graveolens means strong smell.

It is grown throughout the world in gardens, especially for its bluish leaves, and sometimes for its tolerance of hot and dry soil conditions. It is also cultivated as a medicinal herb, as a condiment, and to a lesser extent as an insect repellent. Common rue was always valuated because of its ability to repel pests (like cucumber beetles). The species was earlier used as a medical plant and as a spice herb but today mostly used as a drought tolerant, ornamental plant. Rue has a bitter and sharp taste and is not usable in the kitchen, but the plant is good in making some low small hedges in the herbal garden, since it can withstand cropping.

The common rue (Ruta graveolens) is commonly cultivated in Denmark. Today is is preferred in many homes and gardens because of its strong scent and its ability to repel  insects from some crops. Rue grows wild in a few places in Denmark, feral from earlier cultivation as a medical and spice herb.


Fresh rue was used in magical rituals since antiquity, and it is one of the earliest garden plants, which was cultivated for its magic abilities. Several  ancient civilizations used rue and worshiped its powers. During the Middle Ages rue was a very used medical plant, used against various diseases. The whole plant is rich in etheric oils and has a strong unpleasant smell. The Romans  and Greeks used it in antiquity as a spice and as a medicine, and it was later famous for attenuating the lust of the flesh in monks and nuns. In the year 795 king Ludwig the Pious ordered that rue had to grow in all kloster gardens and that nuns and monks had to eat it each day to keep their chastity. Evil tongues claimed that the plant was in the gardens of the nunneries because it was used as an abortifacient.  

The Romans cultivated rue and brought it with them when they visited prisoners, because they believed the plant would avert "the Evil Eye". The Chinese used it to counteract negative thoughts or wishes. The Celtic wizards said that rue was a defense against magic and could be used to promote healing. Rue was sacred to the early Jews, Egyptians and Caledonians; they believed it was a gift from the Gods. In the old America rue was used by the Indian societies for spells, and they claimed that they could win the heart of their love forever by placing a branch under the light of the moon, before giving it to their love.

Rue is also a common ingredient in witchcraft and spell making. During the Middle Ages it was a symbol of recognition between witches. The Catholic Church also used a branch of rue to sprinkle holy water on its followers during this time known as the "herb of grace."

Tacuinum handbook
The Tacuinum Sanitatis, a medieval handbook on wellness, lists these properties of rue:
Nature: Warm and dry in the third degree.
Optimum: That which is grown near a fig tree.
Usefulness: It sharpens the eyesight and dissipates flatulence.
Dangers: It augments the sperm and dampens the desire for coitus.
Neutralization of the Dangers: With foods that multiply the sperm.
The refined oil of rue is an emmenagogue and was cited by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder and the gynecologist Soranus as a potent abortifacient (inducing abortion).



Folk Medicine


Harpestræng ab. 1300s: eliminates the desire for women; the juice to take for abscesses in the body; fresh plant to eat for purblind eyes; juice of rue and fennel mixed with chicken bile and honey for an ointment  which gives clear eyes; if someone drank the juice of the plant or had eaten it raw they could not be harmed by poison.   

1400s: crushed green rue and laurel mixed with earthworms and vinegar upon face against headache; the seeds mixed with pigeon shit and seethed syrup of vinegar and honey for dropsy; wine decoct or the seeds mixed with deer- or goat's horn to take against rhinitis.  

Christiern Pedersen, 1533: leaves, walnut cernels and figs to eat as an antidote against the plague; crushed leaves of rue mixed with honey and put upon the navel expel worms; juice mixed with honey or morning dew and the juice from the wine clear the eyesight; crushed rue mixed with dog shit to put upon plague abscesses.

Henrik Smid 1546: the plant resists all venom and poisons; the juice mixed with alum, saltpeter and honey heals "the bulky and shabby head."  

1624: Klog mand (healer) (+1624) in southwest Jutland treated fresh wounds with rue, plucked on Midsummer's Night and put into Rhine wine and mixed with horse manure.  

1693: in times of the plague has to be smoked with green rue and five other plants and chips from the billy goat's horn; rue and lovage mixed with honey for a patch upon snake bites.

1799: pulverized rue, feverfew and St. John's wort-oil used for an ointment upon the wrist-artery for stroke.   

Herb and seed were written into the Pharmacopoeia in 1772. 

 Livestock: Rue was used for various diseases in cattle, horse and swine.  

Superstition: 1300s: The weasel eats rue before fighting a snake, then it will not be hurt by the poison. 1774: Rue was plant close to Sage in order to prevent poisonous animals to be there. Some people believed that the smell from rue dispels the toad.  


Culinary use 

rue foliage

In Denmark it is advised not to use rue as a spice or culinary herb, since it has given liver damage on laboratory rats. It is also advised to avoid sun light and to  wash the skin thoroughly with soap water if the juice from the plant has touched the skin. 

Rue has a culinary use, but since it is bitter and gastric discomfort may be experienced by some individuals, it is used sparingly. Although used more extensively in former times, it is not an herb that is typically found in modern cuisine. Today it is largely unknown to the general public and most chefs, and unavailable in grocery stores. It is a component of berbere, the characteristic Ethiopian spice mixture, and as such is encountered in Ethiopian cuisine.

It has a variety of other culinary uses:
It was used extensively in ancient Near Eastern and Roman cuisine (according to Ibn Savyar-al-Warraq and Apicius).
Rue is used as a traditional flavouring in Greece and other Mediterranean countries.
In Istria (a region in Croatia), and in Northern Italy, it is used to give a special flavour to Grappa/Raki and most of the time a little branch of the plant can be found in the bottle. This is called grappa alla ruta.
Seeds can be used for porridge.
The bitter leaf can be added to eggs, cheese, fish, or mixed with damson plums and wine to produce a meat sauce.
In Italy in Friuli Venezia-Giulia, the young branches of the plant are dipped in a batter, deep-fried in oil, and consumed with salt or sugar. They are also used on their own to aromatise a specific type of omelette.
Used in world beers as flavouring ingredient. 

Rue is also grown as an ornamental, both as a low hedge and so the leaves can be used in nosegays.
Most cats dislike the smell of it, and it can, therefore, be used as a deterrent to them. Caterpillars of some subspecies of the butterfly Papilio Machaon feed on rue, as well as other plants. The caterpillars of Papilio xuthus also feed readily on it.
In South India, rue is recommended for home gardens to repel snakes (however the effectiveness is unknown).


burnt skin from rue.

Rue extracts are mutagenic and hepatotoxic. Large doses can cause violent gastric pain, vomiting, systemic complications, and death. Exposure to common rue, or herbal preparations derived from it, can cause severe phytophotodermatitis which results in burn-like blisters on the skin.

The bitter taste of its leaves led to rue being associated with the (etymologically unrelated) verb rue "to regret". Rue is well known for its symbolic meaning of regret and it has sometimes been called "herb-of-grace" in literary works. It is one of the flowers distributed by the mad Ophelia in William Shakespeare's  Hamlet (IV.5):
"There's fennel for you, and columbines:
there's rue for you; and here's some for me:
we may call it herb-grace o' Sundays:
Millais: Ophelia
O you must wear your rue with a difference..."
It was planted by the gardener in Richard II to mark the spot where the Queen wept upon hearing news of Richard's capture (III.4.104–105):
"Here did she fall a tear, here in this place
I'll set a bank of rue, sour herb of grace."
It is also given by the rusticated Perdita to her disguised royal father-in-law on the occasion of a sheep-shearing (Winter's Tale, IV.4):
"For you there's rosemary and rue; these keep
Seeming and savour all the winter long."
It is used by Michael in Milton's paradise lost to give Adam clear sight (11.414):
"Then purg'd with euphrasy and rue
The visual nerve, for he had much to see."
Rue is used by Gulliver in "Gulliver's Travels" (by Jonathan Swift) when he returns to England after living among the "Houyhnhnms". Gulliver can no longer stand the smell of the English Yahoos (people), so he stuffs rue or tobacco in his nose to block out the smell. "I was at last bold enough to walk the street in his (Don Pedro's) company, but kept my nose well with rue, or sometimes with tobacco".
Rue is mentioned in the Bible, Luke 11.42: "But woe unto you, Pharisees! For ye the mint and rue and all manner of herbs".
In mythology, the basilisk, whose breath could cause plants to wilt and stones to crack, had no effect on rue. Weasels who were bitten by the basilisk would retreat and eat rue in order to recover and return to fight.
Rue is considered a national herb of Lithuania and it is the most frequently referred herb in Lithuanian folk songs, as an attribute of young girls, associated with virginity and maidenhood. It was common in traditional Lithuanian weddings for only virgins to wear a rue (ruta) at their wedding, a symbol to show their purity.
Likewise, rue is prominent in the Ukrainian folklore, songs and culture. In the Ukrainian folk song "Oi poli ruta, ruta" (O, rue, rue in the field), the girl regrets losing her virginity, reproaching the lover for "breaking the green hazel tree". "Una Matica de Ruda" is a traditional Sephardic wedding song.
Chervona Ruta—a song, written by Volodymyr Ivasyuk, a popular Ukrainian poet and composer. Pop singer Sofia Rotaru performed the song in 1971. More recently Rotaru performed in a rap arrangement.

Banner of Saxony with rue./wikipedia

Brøndegaard, Dansk Etnobotanik, Folk og Flora ,bd. 2
Anemette Olesen, Danske Klosterurter, Aschehoug 2001,
Wikipedia, dansk og engelsk, 2017.

photo from wikipedia