A forgotten flavour

“Cabbage should be cut up with a very sharp iron knife, then washed and drained. A sufficient quantity of coriander and rue should be cut up together with cabbage; then sprinkle with oxymeli and grate on top just a little bit of asafoetida.” 
Mnesitheus’ “Cabbage in the style of Athens”(4th c. BCE) is quoted by Oribasius, physician to the emperor Julian in the fourth century AD (Medical Collections, Book IV, Chapter 4, part 1)

This is a wonderful salad that I have made many times. Oxymeli is a mixture of  honey and vinegar made by simmering  honey until it foams, adding enough vinegar to make it neither too sharp nor too sweet and boiling again.
The interesting taste comes from the blue- green leaves of rue (ruta graveolens), a bitter herb with strong smell which is not exactly pleasant but its leaves go wonderful with meat, cheese and acidic flavours. Certain herbs with bitter taste such as rue were used in ancient Greek cooking, most of them are rejected in our days though. 

Τhe wild form has even more disagreeable smell than the garden rue

A month ago I bought a rue plant and grow it in my garden

Among the ancient Greeks the plant was highly esteemed also as a medicine, an antidote to poisons and a herb to protect one from witchcraft. Ancient Greeks mentioned it as peganon [πήγανον], a name still used in modern Greek as apiganos [απήγανος]. Its Latin name, ruta, comes from the Greek rheô, which means “to flow, to run as water , an appropriate name for a plant that was not only an emmenagogue but could rid the body from a number of diseases too.

However,  rue is toxic in large doses so should only be used in small quantities and should not ever be taken by pregnant women since it can induce  abortions.



One thought on “A forgotten flavour

  1. “Wild rue” normally refers to Peganon harmala, an unrelated species. My understanding is that it shouldn't be eaten at all.

    Ruta graveolens, on the other hand, is delicious. Of course, I never use it when cooking for guests, just in case someone is pregnant.

    The name ruta shows up in Greek too, by the way: ῥυτή, which is apparently a variety of rue (the LSJ says defines it “Peloponnesian word for πήγανον, rue” so maybe it's a dialect difference, rather than a botanical one)

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