The lucky rue plantPosted: November 16, 2012
With the explosive popularity of The Hunger Games, people have been talking about the character Rue. It caught me a little off-guard, because before I had ever heard of the Hunger Games, I was writing about Rue Tennel, an aemet. Another writer remembered that rue is a plant that would make a good female name? Cool, I guess! (Another thing I learned: Katniss’s name isn’t just a weird variation of Katherine or something. It’s another plant.)
But yes, rue is a plant easily grown in gardens. Also known as the Herb-of-Grace, it’s a flowering shrub in the genus Rutaceae, related to citrus trees. Rue can be used to season food, but it’s very bitter and can be toxic in large amounts. The sap can also make human skin hypersensitive to sunlight, causing blisters.
European history considers rue a symbol of loss, regret and bitter lessons. It was also used as a medicinal herb in earlier centuries. Along with being an insect repellant, antiseptic and abortificant, rue was thought to ward off witchcraft and cure all sorts of poisons. Rue is often mentioned as a counter to the mythical basilisk, since it’s the only plant able to withstand the basilisk’s deadly poison breath. Weasels — the only animals resistant enough to fight a basilisk — would wet their teeth with rue to poison the monster, or they would eat rue to speed their own healing after the battle.
In the Aligare world, aemets have a ready understanding of plants, so folk see rue quite differently. They see no regret or pain in this simple flowering shrub — just another one of the goddess Verdana’s children with its own virtues and dangers. Rue leaf is a minor ingredient in most medicinal tonics, thought to aid sleep, soothe minor pain and neutralize toxins. It has only mild effects on aemets and korvi, but it’s a potent treatment for ferrin. Wild ferrin will seek out some rue to eat whenever they’re feeling unwell — particularly if they’ve been fighting with a very real Aligare basilisk. (When building my fantasy world, I thought the basilisk-weasel-rue lore was cool and I specifically wanted to work it in.)
Although rue isn’t the most potent medicine for aemetkind, many aemets still regard it as a lucky plant. Wherever rue grows, a ferrin might show up to partake of it. Rue is a symbol of the way otherkind friends will arrive whenever there’s a need. If a person has rue leaf tonic on hand or keeps some rue growing nearby, they’ll be able to ensure the health of any new allies they meet.
That’s why rue is thought to be a fortuitous plant. And that’s why the character Rue is seen as a lucky young woman, although she doesn’t personally believe in luck.
“And let’s meet at this same time, next eightday. This shade of daylight.” [Felixi] turned a crooked smile to the sky. “It’s the colour of rue flowers, wouldn’t you say?”
It was — a late afternoon light, fully yellow without making itself obtrusive.
“Why, do you think it’s a lucky colour?”
“Of course not. Luck is fool’s magic.”
Rue couldn’t hold back her grin. “Right. It’s just a time, then.”
–Render, a story of Aligare, draft version
There’s an awful lot of history and symbolism in this one little plant. I think that’s why it’s so easy to add more symbolism through speculative fiction: because rue already has lots to work with.
- Food culture of Aligare (Part 1: History) (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- Are utopian and dystopian worlds even possible? (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)
- When we choose honesty (heidicvlach.wordpress.com)