Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)
Key facts about the Tansy
- Height: 30-120cm
- Flowering Time: July – September
- Flower colour: Golden yellow
- Growth habit: Upright stems with deeply toothed leaflets all the way up. Culminating in flat topped clusters of yellow florets.
- Habitat: Common throughout the UK except in mountainous regions. You’ll find tansy thriving in field borders and on riverbanks and roadsides. It’s a perennial plant and will keep growing for many years.
- Appears in: Meadowmat for Birds and Bees
Tansy flowers look like some sort of a mutant. The flowers are held high in little groups, but what is unusual is that they don’t appear to have petals. These plants are members of the daisy family. They look just like a daisy with the petals picked off and only the bright yellow centres remaining.
The leaves of the tansy plant remind me of yarrow leaves. They are finely branched and almost fern-like in their appearance.
Uses for Tansy
Before the advent of the NHS, Tansy was an important plant in the poor man’s medicine chest. The leaves taste quite bitter and were eaten in spring to detoxify the body after winter. They were also used as a vermifuge. In other words to treat infestations of worms.
Another, surprising use for Tansy is as a culinary herb. The leaves have a distinctive smell but actually make a good substitute for expensive spices. Tansy can imbibe a dish with a flavour similar to nutmeg and cinnamon. Try it combined with egg for breakfast or lunch….but don’t use too much. Tansy oil contains the substance Thujone which is toxic. Definitely don’t eat tansy if you are pregnant.
In the garden, aside from being a decorative plant, tansy can be used to create an insecticide. Steep the leaves in water for a couple of days before straining off the liquid and using it to control aphid infestations.
The flowers are beautiful when dried and brought indoors. Pick them in full bloom and suspend the stems upside down in a dark dry and airy place until the stems are straw like and completely dry.
Folklore, myths and legends
An old wives tale suggests that popping a tansy leaf into your shoe will ensure a safe journey. It is well known as a preservative.
Apparently the Ancient Greeks would wrap their dead in Tansy leaves to preserve the corpse until it was time for burial. The insecticide properties were also employed in storing meat.
Finally, tansy is known as the Bible Flower. Tansy leaves were used as bookmarks in the bible and emitted a nice minty scent when the book was opened.
Tansy is a fascinating plant with many uses and a beauty all of its own. If you would like to grow it in your own garden, why not establish a wildflower garden? You’ll find tansy growing alongside several other, equally interesting plants in Meadowmat for Birds and Bees.