Other Common Names:
The other common names for the herb tansy are Arbor Vitae, Bitter Buttons, Hineheel, Scented Fern, Stinking Willie, Common Tansy, Wild Tansy, Gold Leaf Tansy and Ginger Plant.
The name Tansy is probably derived from the Greek Athanaton (immortal), either, says Dodoens, because it lasts so long in flower or, as Ambrosius thought, because it is capital for preserving dead bodies from corruption. It was said to have been given to Ganymede to make him immortal. Tansy was a popular strewing herb in times past because it's clean, camphorous scent repelled flies and other pests. It is still customary to plant tansy outside the kitchen door, and around the garden for the same reasons. Patches of tansy can survive for decades in the same location. The ancient Greeks may have been the first to cultivate it as a medicinal herb. In about 1525, it was listed as "necessary for a garden" in Britain.
The stem of tansy is erect and leafy, about 2 to 3 feet high which are glabrous or sparingly hairy. The alternate leaves are up to 12" long and 4" across, and more or less ovate in outline. They are double or triple pinnately lobed, which provides them with a fern-like appearance.
The leaves have flat petioles and they are largely hairless. The smallest lobes are dentate along the margins. The upper stems terminate in flat clusters of 20-200 yellow flower heads. Each flowerhead is about 1/3" across, consisting of numerous yellow disk florets and no ray florets (or insignificant ones). Each disk floret is narrowly tubular and has 5 lobes that are upright, rather than spreading, when it is fully open. The outer disk florets bloom ahead of the inner disk disk florets. Each flowerhead is flat-topped and shaped like a button. A single series of overlapping floral bracts surround the base of the flowerhead. Each bract is green, oblong-linear in shape, and often has a papery upper margin. The root system is fibrous and produces rhizomes. The plant is conspicuous in August and September by its heads of round, flat, dull yellow flowers, growing in clusters, which earn it the name of 'Buttons.' It has a very curious and not altogether disagreeable odour, somewhat like camphor.
Tansy is native to Eurasia and is found in almost all parts of mainland Europe. It is also widely distributed in Nova Scotia, westward to Minnesota, south to Missouri and North Carolina. Naturalized from Europe.
Habitats include edges of prairies and fields, fence rows, pastures, weedy meadows, old homestead sites, landfills and soil piles, and areas along roads and railroads. Thus found throughout temperate zones in the northern hemisphere, tansy grows in open areas, along roadsides, and close to water.
The preference is full or partial sun and moist to slightly dry conditions. Common Tansy does well in ordinary garden soil containing loam or clay-loam. Tansy can be cultivated by seed or propagated by division. Tansy will thrive in almost any soil and may be increased, either in spring or autumn, by slips or by dividing the creeping roots, which if permitted to remain undisturbed, will, in a short time, overspread the ground. When transplanting the slips or portions of root, place therefore at least a foot apart. The leaves and flowers are collected during the flowering time between June and September.
The button shaped flowers of tansy are in full bloom between mid to late summers.
Pests and Diseases
Tansy, can even be used as natural insect repellents in the home. It is little bothered by pests and disease, although some of the lower leaves may shrivel up and turn brown during a summer drought. After the blooming period, the substantial foliage begins to turn brown in patches and becomes ragged-looking in appearance. If necessary, handpick any insects you see damaging leaves, or remove any leaves that have become infested. Control aphids, spider mites, or whiteflies, if they appear, by spraying leaves (including the undersides) with an insecticidal soap. Thus Tansy has fewer insect pests because the foliage is bitter-tasting and toxic, mammalian herbivores usually avoid this plant as a food source. Some of the chemicals in the foliage include the insecticide pyrethrin, the neurotoxin thujone, the toxic oil tanacetin, and camphor.
The aerial parts of the plant and the herb are of medicinal and commercial use.
- The distilled water cleanses the skin of all discolourings, as morphew, sunburns, pimples and freckles.
- The powdered herb boiled in vinegar, with honey and Alum, and gargled, eases toothache and helps sore gums.
- The dried flowers and seeds are a useful remedy for gout.
- Tansy is largely used for expelling worms in children.
- Tansy has been used externally with benefit for some eruptive diseases of the skin, and the green leaves, pounded and applied, will relieve sprains and allay the swelling.
- The dried leaves and flowering tops of tansy is used as an anthelmintic, tonic, stimulant, and promotes menstrual flow.
- It is used in treating common colds, stomachaches, intestinal worms and cuts and bruises.
- Tansy may be used externally to kill scabies, fleas, and lice.
- Tansy lotions are considered cleansing and soothing.
- Helpful for acne.
- The flowers in the herbal bath are considered soothing.
- The dried flowers are used in floral arrangements.
- Dry the flowers on the stalk. Dried leaves and flowers are also used in sachets and potpourris, especially for insect repellant sachets.
- The young leaves and flowering tops produce yellows and greens; orange is produced with chrome and cream of tartar.
- Tansy also makes a flavoring in cakes and puddings.
- Tansy is used as a flavoring agent in certain alcoholic beverages.
Tansy was one of the Strewing Herbs mentioned by Tusser in 1577, and was one of the native plants dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The Tansy cakes were made from the young leaves of the plant, mixed with eggs, and was thought to purify the humours of the body after the limited fare of Lent. In time, this custom obtained a kind of symbolism, and Tansies, as these cakes were called, came to be eaten on Easter Day as a remembrance of the bitter herbs eaten by the Jews at the Passover. Coles (1656) says the origin of eating it in the spring is because Tansy is very wholesome after the salt fish consumed during Lent, and counteracts the ill-effects which the 'moist and cold constitution of winter has made on people.
Tansy also has a long history as a seasoning and medicinal plant. In England, the leaves were once used to flavor small tansy cakes eaten during Lent where their bitter taste symbolized Christ's suffering.
Folklore and Myths
Tansy is a Protective herb commonly said to keep the Police, DEA Agents, or the INS from looking into one's affairs. A pinch of tansy worn in the shoes is said by many conjures and root workers to Keep the Law Away, as does bathing in TANSY Tea, rinsing your clothing in water to which TANSY Tea has been added, or washing your floors down with the tea.