These two herbs were mentioned together in Luke 11:42—“But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone”.

The Greek word for “mint” is heduosmos, which means ‘having a sweet smell’ and refers to a sweet-smelling herb or mint, which many Jewish scholars have identified as horsemint. It is much larger than the other mints—reaching a height of one metre or more, with lilac flowers—and grows in moist, sunny places where it tends to run wild. It should not be confused with the spearmint plant. The Hebrews strewed mint across the floors of their houses and the temple, prizing its clean and aromatic scent.

Rue, on the other hand, sprouts leaves which have a strong, bitter taste and are typically used as a condiment to make tea and to flavour various foods. It was occasionally eaten in salads, but because of its slight toxicity, it can only be consumed this way in small quantities.

Rue plant oils have a distinct, strong odour. These oils are extracted from the leaves, and are used in a range of cosmetics, fragrance products and soaps. Rue plants are also used to make a red dye. Protective gloves need to be worn when handling rue plants because the plant juices can cause dermatitis or blisters.

So, the Lord chose two contrasting herbs—one flavoursome, the other bitter—to expose the misplaced priorities of the Pharisees. We can picture them elaborately counting seeds or leaves, dissecting the plants and putting aside nine leaves for themselves and one leaf for God.

Tithing was commanded under the law and our Lord didn’t want to detract from that obligation. What he wanted, however, was for them to focus on what is important—God’s justice and love. We need to examine our priorities too and make sure we don’t neglect these important requirements for citizenship in God’s kingdom (Rom 14:17).