The mythic rue, a plant whose name in English suggests regret, mysteriously unites two worlds–Europe and South America–through its aromas of curing, driving away evil, and attracting positive energies to whoever has it or uses it. Even today it is a fundamental part of Cuzco’s customary practices and esoteric culture.
Rue fills many roles in the city of Cuzco. It is present in almost every building of the city and on every street. It is fundamental in the lives of most cuzqueños. It must never be lacking in most homes. And in the countryside it is always found in gardens or pots.
They say that rue is good for driving away bad energies or spirits; it does not let them bring any harm.
People also use it to treat various sufferings as well as some illnesses, such as headache, stomach ache. It is also used for bad wind, or wayra mala, as the people of Cuzco call dizziness. This notion of a twisting, bad wind is also used to speak about evil spirits or just bad energy.
When people are struck by this wind, they pick some stems of rue and pass it over the head, forehead, and neck, before burning it. If when the rue burns it bursts then people know it took away the evil wind.
Though interviews with people from rural Vilcabamba province of Cuzco, we were told that rue is used against witchcraft. They told about a woman who had been the victim of witchcraft. People who were jealous of her had stolen a piece of her clothing so they could bewitch her. Two days later the woman began experiencing pains in her feet and then she became ill and could not work. Her relatives ran to find a healer who helped them. He said that they should treat her daily with rue and with a bit of time she got completely well. They rue cured her of the witchcraft.
There are two kinds of rue, male and female. The qualities of the female are found in the small leaves and flowers which it produces in abundance. The male has larger leaves and a different type of leaf though it is harder to find. According to the women who sell rue in the market, the correct way to use the plant requires bringing the male and female together so you can get greater power. Some say that in this way it represents Andean dualism.
The plant is also used as an amulet and sign of good fortune. People will carry rue leaves and flowers in their coin purses or wallets and purses to attract money. It is a good sign when while walking in the city you run across a branch of rue with flowers or seeds. It augers for good fortune. People will pick it up and keep it so money will come their way.
Rue is sold in all of Cuzco’s markets by the herb vendors along with other plants and herbs the women we call “mothers” bring from the countryside. The plant is also found in every traditional chicheria, or place where chicha and food is sold. It may be placed above the doorway or grow in a pot.
Not just in Cuzco, but in other cities of the south, such as Puno and Arequipa, one almost always finds a pot of rue in businesses as a sign of prosperity and success.
Not only is rue used for its magical properties, it is also used in he kitchen. It flavors soups such as the traditional corn lawa ( a kind of thin gruel). But one only uses a tiny amount since the flavor of rue is strong and bitter.
It is impressive to see how this plant has formed and continues to be a key part of the life of Cuzco’s people. Not only does it have important uses and good energies, it brings a balance to our customs.