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Three Rare and Ancient Herbs: Clary, Angelica, and Rue

Updated on June 15, 2013
Wild angelica (Angelica sylvestris) from Thomé, Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885
Wild angelica (Angelica sylvestris) from Thomé, Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885 | Source

Copyright 2012 - Kris Heeter

I stumbled across a wonderful manuscript dated back a century ago on 36 culinary herbs from that era -- "Culinary Herbs" by M.G. Kains, 1912.

Of the 36, there were several that I had not heard of before:

  • Angelica
  • Clary
  • Finocchio
  • Pennyroyal
  • Rue
  • Tansy

Upon further investigation, it seems that many of these date back to early centuries and some would be considered "rare" in terms of culinary use in today's society - particularly in the United States.

Below, I've described three that I found to have a rich and interesting history.

Culinary Herb:  Clary
Culinary Herb: Clary | Source


According Kains, clary (Salvia sclarea) is mentioned as an herb that may have originated in Syria or Italy. The presumption was is in favor of the former, as it is an older established country. The plant was then probably carried westward from it by soldiers or merchants.

In England, clary was known even prior to 1540. However in early America, it was described as being found in "foreigners' gardens" and was rarely seen in America in the 19th and 20th century. By the time the 20th century came about, sage had taken it's place in the kitchen and clary was really only used to occasionally to make wine.

Candied Angelica

A Century Old Recipe from 1912

Note: this recipe is conveyed exactly as described a century ago, hence the reference to boiling in a kettle over the fire.

"The fresh roots, the tender stems, the leaf stalks and the midribs of the leaves make a pleasing aromatic candy. When fresh gathered the plant is rather too bitter for use. This flavor may be reduced by boiling. The parts should first be sliced lengthwise, to remove the pith. The length of time will depend somewhat upon the thickness of the pieces. A few minutes is usually sufficient.

After removal and draining the pieces, they are put in a syrup of granulated sugar and boiled till full candy density is reached. The kettle is then removed from the fire and the contents allowed to cool. When almost cold the pieces are to be taken out and allowed to dry."


Angelica (Archangclica officinalis) is a biennial or perennial herb of the natural order Umbelliferse, so called from its supposed medicinal qualities. It is believed to be a native of Syria that then spread to many cool European climates, especially Lapland and the Alps, where it has became naturalized.

The stems and leaf stalks were used, while still succulent. They were eaten as a salad, or roasted or boiled like potatoes. And it's been noted that the leaves can be boiled and eaten as a substitute for spinach.

At the turn of the 20th Century, in Europe, angelica was frequently used as a garnish or as an adjunct to dishes of meat and fish.

Seeds were used for flavoring beverages, cakes and candies. Oil of Angelica was also used for flavoring.

This was an herb not frequently used in the United States during this era.

Culinary Herb:  Rue
Culinary Herb: Rue | Source

Rue - the "Sour Herb of Grace"

Rue (Riita gravcolcns) is a hardy perennial bushy herb, native of southern Europe. It is a member of the same botanical family as the orange, Rutacese.

In early centuries it was highly reputed for seasoning and for medicine among the Greeks and the Romans and in ancient times considered to be effectual for 84 maladies!

Because of the exceedingly strong smell of the leaves, rue was found to be disagreeable to most Americans.

It appears to be no longer used much for seasoning probably because of its
acridity and apparently it can blister the skin when frequently handled.

Historically, rue was often chosen by poets to express disdain. Shakespeare speaks of it as the "sour herb of grace".

Are these truly rare herbs?

For the herb lovers and culinary experts out there, please feel free to share any additional knowledge you may have on the use of these herbs (currently or historically) in the comments section below!


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    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 

      3 years ago from Australia

      An interestibg hub. Rue especially is mentioned in Shakespeare, but I have nvere seen the herbs. Thanks for sharing

    • OldRoses profile image

      Caren White 

      6 years ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Clary sage is grown quite a bit in my area (NJ). Its flowers are beautiful, but I don't care for its scent. The best way I can describe it is like rotten sage. I grow angelica because its flowers attract beneficial insects. Rue is a drought tolerant plant. I'm working on getting a few specimens for the herb garden at Rutgers Gardens which has no irrigation.

    • Mama Kim 8 profile image

      Sasha Kim 

      6 years ago

      Very interesting! Oh and pretty to boot! voted a bunch!

    • picklesandrufus profile image


      6 years ago from Virginia Beach, Va

      Interesting hub. I grow herbs, but knew nothing about the one in your hub. Good information!

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      The only herb I recognise is Angelica, I haven't heard any mention of it for years, I remember my mum use to use it!

      thank you for an interesting hub, voting up!

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      6 years ago from Western NC

      I love finding about about herbs and this hub is great, with thorough explanations that have piqued my interest. Thank you for sharing this. Voted up and tweeted.

    • Kris Heeter profile imageAUTHOR

      Kris Heeter 

      6 years ago from Indiana

      @Imogen French - thanks so much for adding to this! I sort of get the sense that these were perhaps carried over from Europe in the 1700 and 1800's but they never really took off in popularity in the U.S. The candied angelica certainly sound intriguing!

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 

      6 years ago from Southwest England

      I think these must be more common in England, as I have heard of all of these. I think they are all still fairly easy to find here, in either old cottage gardens or growing wild in the countryside. I have certainly seen wild clary growing in my local roadside verges.

      I have to admit I have not used any of these myself, but I do know of people who have used candied angelica for cake decorations.

      Interesting hub!

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      6 years ago from New York, New York

      Kris, I have never heard of any of the three and wish I could be of more help, but do thank you for educating me a bit on three herbs I have never really heard of before. Voted and shared too.

    • Kris Heeter profile imageAUTHOR

      Kris Heeter 

      6 years ago from Indiana

      @billybuc - thanks for chiming in!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I will be the first to claim ignorance on this one, Kris. I have heard of Angelica but the other two, no clue! Thanks for a little education and an interesting hub!


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