Tansy: Wikis


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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Genus: Tanacetum
Species: T. vulgare
Binomial name
Tanacetum vulgare
Illustration of a tansy

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a perennial, herbaceous flowering plant of the aster family that is native to temperate Europe and Asia. It has been introduced to other parts of the world and, in some areas, has become invasive. It is also known as Common Tansy, Bitter Buttons, Cow Bitter, Mugwort, or Golden Buttons.

The Mugwort used in acupuncture as Moxa is not this plant, but Artemisia vulgaris.



Tansy is a flowering herbaceous plant with finely divided compound leaves and yellow, button-like flowers. It has a stout, somewhat reddish, erect stem, usually smooth, 50—150 cm tall, and branching near the top. The leaves are alternate, 10—-15 cm long and are pinnately lobed, divided almost to the center into about seven pairs of segments, or lobes, which are again divided into smaller lobes having saw-toothed edges, thus giving the leaf a somewhat fernlike appearance. The roundish, flat-topped, button-like, yellow flower heads are produced in terminal clusters from mid to late summer. The scent is similar to that of camphor with hints of rosemary. The leaves and flowers are said to be poisonous if consumed in large quantities. The plant’s volatile oil is high in thujone, a substance found in absinthe that can cause convulsions. Some insects, notably the Tansy beetle, have evolved resistance to Tansy and live almost exclusively on it.

History and distribution

Tansy is native to Eurasia; it is found in almost all parts of mainland Europe. It is absent from Siberia and some of the Mediterranean islands.[1] The ancient Greeks may have been the first to cultivate it as a medicinal herb.[2] In about 1525, it was listed (by the spelling "Tansey") as "necessary for a garden" in Britain.[3]


History of Uses

Common Tansy has a long history of many uses. Tansy was first recorded cultivated by the ancient Greeks for a variety of medicinal purposes. In the eighth century A.D., it was grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne (Charles the Great) and by Benedictine monks of the Swiss monastery of St. Gall. Tansy was considered a cure for intestinal worms, helped with rheumatism, digestive problems, fevers, used to heal sores, and “brought out” measles. [2] [4] [5] [6] [7]

During the Middle Ages and later, high doses were used to induce abortions. [5][8][9] Contradictorily, tansy was also used to help women conceive and to prevent miscarriages. [4][5][10] In the 15th century, Christians began serving Tansy with Lenten meals to commemorate the bitter herbs eaten by the Israelites. [7][10] Tansy was thought to have the added Lenten benefit of controlling flatulence brought on by days of eating fish, beans, and peas. [4][5] Lenten Tansy cakes were also superstitiously served to prevent the intestinal worms brought on by eating fish. [11]

Common Tansy was used as a face wash and was reported to lighten and purify the skin. [4][5] In the 1800s, Irish folklore suggested that bathing in a solution of Tansy and salts was the cure to joint pain. [12] Although most of common Tansy’s medicinal uses have been discredited, it is still a component of some medicines in the early 21st century and is listed by the United States Pharmacopeia as a treatment for fevers, feverish colds, and jaundice. [2][5][10]

Common Tansy has also been cultivated and used for its bug repellent and preservative effects. Common Tansy and related species have been used for centuries as an insect and worm warding type of embalming. [2][5][6] It was packed into coffins, wrapped in funeral winding sheets, and sometimes Tansy wreaths were placed on the dead. [2][5][6][10] The first president of Harvard was laid to rest in 1668 wearing a Tansy wreath in a coffin packed with Tansy; when “God’s Acre” was exhumed and moved in 1846, the Tansy had maintained its shape and fragrance,helping to identify the president’s remains. [2][5][10] By the 19th century, the use of Tansy at funerals was so prevalent in New England that people began to despise Tansy for its mournful and morbid association with death. [5][7]

During the American colonial period, meat was frequently rubbed with or packed in common Tansy to repel insects and prevent decay. [2][5][10] Also during the colonial period, common Tansy was frequently worn in shoes to prevent ague and malaria.[5][10] In England tansy was placed on window sills to repel flies, sprigs placed in bed linen to drive away pests, and was also used as an ant repellent ([21]) In the 1940s distilled common tansy oils mixed with fleabane, pennyroyal, and diluted alcohol was a well known mosquito repellent, with collectors paying five cents a pound for tansy in full bloom ([22]; [13]). Common tansy was planted alongside potatoes to repel the Colorado potato bug, one study finding tansy reduced the potato bugs population by 60-100% ([19]; [13]; [11]). Research has found that tansy extracts do indeed repel mosquitoes, but not as effectively as products containing diethyltoluamide ([20]; [13]).


Tansy contains volatile oils which can cause contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals and, if taken internally, result in toxic by-products being produced in the liver and digestive tract as the plant's oils are broken down. Tansy is highly toxic to internal parasites, and has been used by herbalists to expel worms for centuries. Because tansy contains thujone, the U.S. FDA limits Tansy use to alcoholic beverages, and the final product must be thujone-free.[13] Tansy is an effective insecticide, and is highly toxic to arthropods.[14]

The chemical compounds in common Tansy’s volatile oils can be divided into four groups; 1,8-cineole, trans-thujone, camphor, and myrtenol, with the presence and amounts of each of these groups varying greatly from season to season and from one individual plant to the next ([20]; [13]; [25]; [24]; [23]). The 1,8-cineole compound is a toxin produced in the leaves of Tansy believed to defend against herbivores ([24]; [23]).The 1,8-cineole compound has a long list of biological activities; allelopathy, anesthetic, antibacterial, carcinogenic, fungicide, herbicide, insectifuge, nematicide, sedative, testosterone hydroxylase inducer, and others ([20]; [13]; [24]; [23]). Thujone is a compound found in some alcoholic beverages, is a GABA receptor antagonist that allows neurons to fire more easily, and has the reported effects of being an aphrodisiac, increasing brain activity, and causing hallucinations, spasms, convulsions, and even death ([24]; [23]). Camphor is another compound with various uses; manufacture of plastics, used in lacquers and varnishes, in explosives and pyrotechnics, as a moth repellent, as a preservative in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, medially used to relieve itching and pain creating a cooling effect on the skin, as an injectable antibacterial for root canals in dentistry, a food flavor enhancer, and is an active ingredient in Vicks VapoRub ([24]; [23]). Finally, Myrtenol has been used as an insect pheromone in insect trapping, as a beverage preservative, a flavoring and a fragrance ([24]; [23]).

Culinary uses

Tansy foil

Tansy was formerly used as a flavoring for puddings and omelets, but is almost unknown now. As noted by Gerarde, Tansy was well known as “pleasant in taste”, and he recommends Tansy sweetmeats as “an especial thing against the gout, if every day for a certain space a reasonable quantitie thereof be eaten fasting.” In Yorkshire, Tansy and caraway seeds were traditionally used in biscuits served at funerals.[11] According to liquor historian A. J. Baime's book, Big Shots, Tennessee whiskey magnate Jack Daniel enjoyed drinking his own whiskey with sugar and crushed Tansy leaf.

Ethnomedical use

For many years, Tansy has been used as a medicinal herb. Irish folklore of the mid-1800s suggests bathing in a solution of Tansy and salt as a cure for joint pain.[12] Bitter tea made with the blossoms of T. vulgare has been effectively used for centuries as an anthelmintic (vermifuge). Tansy cakes were traditionally served during Lent because of a superstition that eating fish during Lent caused intestinal worms.[11] Note that only T.tansys is used in medicinal preparations; all species of tansy are toxic, and an overdose can be fatal. The dried flowering herb of Tanacetum is used ethnomedically to treat migraine, neuralgia, and rheumatism, and as an antihelminthic, in conjunction with a competent herbalist to circumvent any possible toxicity. Traditionally, Tansy was often used for its emmenagogue effects, to bring on menstruation or end an unwanted pregnancy. Pregnant women should avoid this herb. [15]

Other uses

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

In England, bunches of Tansy were traditionally placed at windows to keep out flies. Sprigs were placed in bedding and linen to drive away pests. [16]

Tansy has been widely used in gardens and homes in Melbourne, Australia to keep away ants.

It is also used by some traditional dyers to produce a golden-yellow pigment.[17] The yellow flowers are dried for use in floral arrangements.

Tansy is also used as a companion plant, especially with cucurbits like cucumbers and squash, or with roses or various berries. It is thought to repel ants, cucumber beetles, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, and some kinds of flying insects, among others.

Tansy in art and literature

  • A portion of a nineteenth-century poem by John Clare describes the delight of Tansy and other herbs:
And where the marjoram once, and sage, and rue,
And balm, and mint, with curl'd-leaf parsley grew,
And double marigolds, and silver thyme,
And pumpkins 'neath the window climb;
And where I often, when a child, for hours
Tried through the pales to get the tempting flowers,
As lady's laces, everlasting peas,
True-love-lies-bleeding, with the hearts-at-ease,
And golden rods, and tansy running high,
That o'er the pale-tops smiled on passers-by.
  • From "The Cross Roads; or, The Haymaker's Story", available from a collection at Project Gutenberg.
  • Tansy Strange, a character in The Jem Star by Karen Drury, is named after this wild herb. The name is very appropriate due to her wild character.
  • Tansy is mentioned several times in The Maximus Poems by Charles Olson, a book of projectivist poems composed as letters taking place in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
  • Teddy Kent, a character in L. M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon series, lived in a place called the Tansy Patch.
  • From "Girl of the Limberlost", Ch 18, by Gene Stratton Porter: "Later she went out beside the west fence and gathered an armful of tansy which she boiled to a thick green tea. Then she stirred in oatmeal until it was a stiff paste. She spread a sheet over her bed and began tearing strips of old muslin. She bandaged each hand and arm with the mixture and plastered the soggy, evil-smelling stuff in a thick poultice over her face and neck. She was so tired she went to sleep, and when she awoke she was half skinned….at night to go through the same process….. By the third morning she was a raw even red, the fourth she had faded to a brilliant pink under the soothing influence of a cream recommended…..The following day she was a pale pink, later a delicate porcelain white"

See also


  1. ^ Zohary, D.; Heywood, V.H. (1997), "A Catalogue of the Wild Relatives of Cultivated Plants Native to Europe", Bocconea, http://www.pgrforum.org/Zohary_Heywood_Catalogue.htm 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g LeCain, Ron; Sheley, Roger (2006), Common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), http://msuextension.org/publications/AgandNaturalResources/MT199911AG.pdf, retrieved 2009-10-30 
  3. ^ Harvey, John H.. Garden plants of around 1525: the Fromond list. pp. 122–134. 
  4. ^ a b c d LeStrange, Richard (1977). A History of Herbal Plants. London: Angus & Robertson. ISBN 0207956456. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Mitich, Larry W. (March 1992). "Tansy". Weed Technology 6: 242–244. 
  6. ^ a b c Zimdahl, Richard (1989). Weeds and Words. Ames: Iowa State University Press. ISBN 0813801281. 
  7. ^ a b c Durant, Mary (1976). Who Named the Daisy? Who Named the Rose?. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company. 
  8. ^ Kingsbury, John Merriam (1964). Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0136850162. 
  9. ^ "Illinois Wildflowers". http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/weeds/plants/cm_tansy_cr.htm. Retrieved 2008-12-16. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Haughton, Claire Shaver (1980). Green Immigrants. New York: Harcourt Brace. ISBN 0156364921. 
  11. ^ a b c Sumner, Judith (2004). American Household Botany : A History of Useful Plants, 1620–1900. Portland, Or: Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-652-3. 
  12. ^ a b Egan, F.A. (1887). "Irish Folk-Lore. Medical Plants". The Folk-Lore Journal 5 (1): 11–13. 
  13. ^ Food Additives Permitted for Direct Addition to Food for Human Consumption. Food and Drug Administration (2007). Retrieved Mar 30, 2008.
  14. ^ Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, Gregory L. Tilford, ISBN 0-87842-359-1
  15. ^ Martin, Corinne (2000). Herbal Remedies from the Wild. Woodstock, Vermont, USA: The Countryman Press. pp. 133–135. ISBN 0-88150-485-8. 
  16. ^ Drury, Susan (1992), "Plants and Pest Control in England circa 1400–1700: A Preliminary Study", Folklore 103 (i): 103–106 
  17. ^ Suomi, Paivi (2001), A Dyer's Walk, http://www.allfiberarts.com/library/dyeplants/bltansy.htm, retrieved 2007-05-13 

11. LeCain, R., Sheley, R., 2002. Common tansy Tanacetum vulgare. Montana State University Extension Service. http://www.montana.edu/wwwpb/pubs/mt9911.html [Accessed: April 2, 2007].

12. LeStrange, R. 1977. A History of Herbal Plants. Angus & Robertson, London.

13. Mitich, L. W. 1992. Tansy. Weed Technology, 6, pp. 242–244.

14. Zimdahl, R. L. 1989. Weeds and Words. Iowa State Univ. Press, Ames.

15. Kingsbury, J. M. 1964. Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada. Prentice-Hall Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

16. Illinois Wildflowers. http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/weeds/plants/cm_tansy_cr.htm [Accessed December 16, 2008].

17. Durant, M. 1976. Who Named the Daisy? Who Named the Rose? Dodd, Mead & Company, New York.

18. Haughton, C. S. 1978. Green Immigrants. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., New York.

19. Schearer, W. R. 1984. Components of oil of tansy (Tanace-tum vul- gare) that repel Colorado potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata). Journal of Natural Products, 47, 6, pp. 964–969.

20. DePooter, H. L., J. Vermeesch, and N. M. Schamp. 1989. Journal of Essential Oil Research, 1, 1, pp. 9–13.

21. Drury, S., 1992. Plants and Pest Control in England circa 1400–1700: A Preliminary Study, Folklore 103 pp. 103–106

22. Georgia, A. E. 1942. A Manual of Weeds. The MacMillan Company, New York.

23. Jacobs, J., 2008. Ecological Management of Common Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare L.). United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Invasive Speces Technical Note # MT-18 http://www.msuextension.org/ruralliving/Dream/PDF/ctansy.pdf [Accessed December 18, 2008].

24. Judzentiene, A. and D. Mockute. 2005. The inflorescence and leaf essential oils of Tanacetum vulgare L. var. vulgare growing wild in Lithuania. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 33 pp. 487–498.

25. Keskitalo, M., Pehu E., Simon, J. E., 2001. Variation in volatile compounds from tansy (Tanacetum vulgare L.) related to genetic and morphological differenced of genotypes. Biochemical Systematics and Ecology, 29, pp. 267–285.


  • Blanchan, Neltje (1917). Wild Flowers Worth Knowing. 


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