Thursday, 15 June 2017


“People can choose between the sweet lie or the bitter truth. I say the bitter truth, but many people don’t want to hear it.” - Avigdor Lieberman 

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a perennial, herbaceous flowering plant of the aster family, native to temperate Europe and Asia. It has been introduced to other parts of the world including North America, and in some areas has become invasive. It is also known as common tansy, bitter buttons, cow bitter, or golden buttons. Tansy is absent from Siberia and some of the Mediterranean islands. The ancient Greeks may have been the first to cultivate it as a medicinal herb. In the sixteenth century it was considered to be “necessary for a garden” in Britain.

The plant is a flowering herbaceous species 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 centre into about seven pairs of segments, or lobes, which are again divided into smaller lobes having saw-toothed edges, 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 toxic if consumed in large quantities; the volatile oil contains toxic compounds including thujone, which can cause convulsions and liver and brain damage. If you intend to use tansy as a culinary herb do not use it to excess and do not use it at all if you are allergic to it. Some insects, notably the tansy beetle Chrysolina graminis, have resistance to the toxins and subsist almost exclusively on the plant.

Tansy has a long history of use. It was first recorded as being cultivated by the ancient Greeks for medicinal purposes. In the 8th century AD it was grown in the herb gardens of Charlemagne and by Benedictine monks of the Swiss monastery of Saint Gall. Tansy was used to treat intestinal worms, rheumatism, digestive problems, fevers, sores, and to bring out measles. During the Middle Ages and later, high doses were used to induce abortions. Contrary to this, tansy was also said to help women conceive and to prevent miscarriages. In the 15th century, Christians began serving tansy with Lenten meals to commemorate the bitter herbs eaten by the Israelites. Tansy was thought to have the added Lenten benefits of controlling flatulence brought on by days of eating fish and pulses and of preventing the intestinal worms believed to be caused by eating fish during Lent.

Tansy was used as a face wash and was reported to lighten and purify the skin. In the 19th century, Irish folklore suggested that bathing in a solution of tansy and salts would cure joint pain. Although most of its medicinal uses have been discredited, tansy is still a component of some medicines and is listed by the United States Pharmacopeia as a treatment for fevers, feverish colds, and jaundice.

Tansy has also been cultivated and used for its insect repellent and in the worm warding type of embalming. It was packed into coffins, wrapped in funeral winding sheets, and tansy wreaths were sometimes placed on the dead. During the American colonial period, meat was frequently rubbed with or packed in tansy leaves to repel insects and delay spoilage. Tansy was frequently worn at that time in shoes to prevent malaria and other fevers; it has been shown, however, that some mosquito species including Culex pipiens take nectar from tansy flowers.

Tansy can be used as in companion planting and for biological pest control. It is planted alongside potatoes to repel the Colorado potato beetle, with one study finding tansy reduced the beetle population by 60 to 100%. In England tansy is placed on window sills to repel flies; sprigs are placed in bed linen to drive away pests, and it has been used as an ant repellent. In the 1940s, distilled tansy oil mixed with fleabane, pennyroyal and diluted alcohol was a well-known mosquito repellent. Some research studies support these insect-repellent uses.

Tansy was formerly used as a flavouring for puddings and omelettes, but this culinary use is now almost unknown. The herbalist John Gerard (c. 1545–1612) noted that 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. During the Restoration, a “tansy” was a sweet omelette flavoured with tansy juice. In the BBC documentary “The Supersizers go ...Restoration”, Allegra McEvedy described the flavour as “fruity, with a sharpness to it and then there’s a sort of explosion of cool heat a bit like peppermint.” However, the programme’s presenter Sue Perkins experienced tansy toxicity. According to liquor historian A. J. Baime, in the 19th century Tennessee whiskey magnate Jack Daniel enjoyed drinking his own whiskey with sugar and crushed tansy leaf.

Many tansy species contain a volatile oil, which can cause contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals. If taken internally, toxic metabolites are produced as the oil is broken down in the liver and digestive tract. It is highly toxic to internal parasites, and for centuries tansy tea has been prescribed by herbalists to expel worms. Tansy is an effective insecticide and is highly toxic to arthropods.

In the language of flowers, tansy leaves mean "the truth is bitter", while flowering stems indicate "hate, bitterness and a declaration of war".

This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme.

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