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Helpful Herbs: Tansy

Easy to grow, and thriving wild in almost any soil, tansy is one of the easiest herbs you can add to your garden and it will reward you with dozens of medicinal properties.

The negative side of growing tansy is that it is an invasive plant, and will take over your garden if not carefully controlled. A single tansy plant can produce as many as 10,000 seeds in a growing season, so to keep it under control, clip the flowers before they start to drop seeds.

Tansy is easily started from seed, and as noted above will readily self-sow. Thriving in almost any soil, tansy where you don’t want it is certainly classified as a weed. Apart from a few waterings in dry conditions, it requires little attention. Growing up to four feet in height, tansy will provide you with clumps of bright yellow flowers in mid to late summer.

Tansy blossoms are harvested when in full bloom and then placed on a rack, or hung, for about two weeks to dry. This has the added benefit of reducing self-seeding. Once dried, tansy can be used for many remedies, and some traditional meals.

Please note that tansy does contain some toxins such as thujone, and can cause liver damage. The essential oil should never be consumed. It can be especially toxic to animals, and shouldn’t be planted where your livestock can nibble on it. Do not confuse true tansy (tanacetum vulgare) with ragwort (jacobaea vulgaris) or others in the family tanacetum which have their own unique properties.

Tansy has disappeared from recipes in recent years, partially because of discoveries about its damaging qualities to the liver. Traditionally, however, it was used as a flavoring agent and many maintain it can be safely eaten in small doses. It was commonly used to flavor stews, and as a tea. There are even some older recipes for tansy pudding.

As a remedy and healing agent, tansy is used to treat a wide variety of ailments. It’s most commonly used to treat digestive issues and stomach pains. Tansy can relieve migraines and joint pain, and can also be rubbed on the skin to heal bruises and sores. Traditionally, tansy taken as a tea was used to start menstruation or cause an abortion The scent of tansy is an excellent insect repellant. It can be rubbed on the skin to dissuade bugs, or the herb can be hung, dried, to keep an area bug-free.

Tansy was originally native to mainland Europe, and was first cultivated by the ancient Greeks. It was used to treat rheumatism and intestinal issues in the Middle Ages, and was also used in soap to purify the skin. Tansy was known to alchemists and wisewomen to both induce abortions and increase fertility.

The Greeks used tansy in funeral processions because of its insect-repelling abilities, and it continued to be common in embalming processes until quite recently. Once introduced to the Americas, tansy became part of Native American culture as a tonic and natural dye.

As a dye, tansy can turn fibers yellow or olive green. It is also used by many beekeepers in their smokers to subdue the bees. Again because of it’s power to keep insects at bay, dried tansy was once common in curing and preserving meat.

Though tansy is less common in our day to day lives than it once was, it still has some very helpful properties, and growing it can put you in touch with an important part of our herbal history.


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