***Interested in natural remedies? Uncover herbal remedies from traditional Mexican sources for healing and wellness in the Exploring Traditional Herbal Remedies in Mexico series.
Ruda (ruta graveolens) came to Mexico with the Spanish priests. Branches of this plant were used during mass to sprinkle the holy water about. Mexican curanderas have adopted this practice for their healing sessions. Branches of ruda are used in limpias (cleansings). The curandera (healer) will use this aromatic plant to sweep the body of what ails it. Ruda has been shown to have an antiproliferative effect on cancer cells. It has antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant value. A wash for sores and wounds is made from 20 grams of fresh ruda per liter of water. A poultice can be made with freshly crushed leaves. It is an organic insecticide and herbicide. In Mexico, you will often find ruda by the window to keep out insects or sprigs kept under pillows for the bedbugs. Ruda is often used as a treatment for lice as well. An infusion of 35 grams of fresh ruda per liter or water is made then massaged into the scalp. The head is covered for an hour, then the hair is washed. Apparently, it will also deter cats, although my cat doesn’t seem to realize that and lays haphazardly on whatever section of the garden is the coolest despite numerous rue plants spaced randomly among the other herbs. A tea made from ruda is sometimes used by parteras (midwives) to increase the strength of uterine contractions when labor has gone on for some time. Ruda was also used in infusions to end an unwanted pregnancy during the first few weeks. A tea to bring on menstruation was brewed with 1 / 2 teaspoon of ruda, albabaca (basil), epazote (American wormseed) and yerba buena (spearmint). This aspect of the herb means that pregnant and lactating women should not use ruda in any form. Traditionally, ruda is used to treat earache. Simply soak a cotton ball in warmed vegetable oil infused with ruda and place it in the ear. Crushed leaves are often used on the forehead to treat headaches caused by tension. In addition to the warning against the use during pregnancy, excessive doses of ruda can be toxic. Dermal application should also be done with care because the oils in the plant contain furanocoumarins which sensitize the skin to light and can cause severe blistering on some people.