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Herb of Grace

According to Madeiran beliefs, on St John's Day all herbs are blessed, with the exception of St John's wort. On this day, it was customary to eat a five-spiked rue fruit while fasting as a way of ensuring protection from the evil eye for a year.

In ancient times, the Catholic religion also valued the protective action of the herb of grace. This herb was added to holy water to bless parishioners attending Mass.

Ruta graveolens

Anyone who smells rue leaves for the first time can hardly disguise a reaction of dislike. The very pungent aroma that is released as soon as you touch the leaves lives up to its name - graveolens - which means smelly.

Rue's strong flavour doesn't stop it from being used in cooking. Perhaps due to the introduction of many other spices into the diet, its use is now somewhat forgotten, but over the centuries it has been much appreciated, especially by the Romans.

The leaves are best used fresh, because once dried they are more bitter. They are used in sauces with acidic flavours such as vinaigrette, pickles and tomato sauce. The bitter flavour of the leaves softens the acidic taste of the sauce. It is also used in omelettes, salads, stews and even in the preparation of liqueurs.

Dried rue fruits and seeds have a more intense flavour and are therefore used to prepare spicier meals. Rue, as a condiment, facilitates digestion by helping to improve the absorption of nutrients.

Rue is also sought after for its medicinal properties. Tea made from the leaves relieves stress and reduces anxiety. This is mainly due to the presence of rutin, also known as vitamin P, a flavonoid that gives the herb its bitter flavour.

Rutin stimulates the immune system by increasing arginine levels, while working with vitamin C to fight inflammation. But the properties of this flavonoid go even further: it helps balance blood sugar levels, reduces blood pressure, stimulates circulation and helps reduce the inflammation that causes arthritis and osteoporosis.

But there's no beauty without a catch: topical contact with the plant, or ingesting the herb before exposure to the sun's rays, can cause allergic reactions on the skin due to the presence of furanocoumarins in the leaves. It is also a herb that should be avoided by pregnant women becase it has abortifacient properties.

The good news is that you can find all the benefits of this herb in other foods that are also rich in rutin, such as apples. As the saying goes: "An apple a day keeps the doctor away".

Other foods such as onions, asparagus, green olives and citrus fruits in particular are good sources of rutin.

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