Tansy, scientifically known as Tanacetum vulgare, is an herbaceous perennial flowering plant that belongs to the aster family. It is native to most regions of Asia and Europe and has also further been introduced to many other parts of the world, including North America, for horticultural and medicinal purposes.
The plant is best described as a rhizomatous, erect and weedy perennial that produces fern-like aromatic foliage. The name ‘tansy’ of this flowering plant comes from the Greek word ‘Athanaton,’ which translates to “immortal” in the English language. It is basically a reference to the long-lasting flowers of this plant and the way its leaves were once used to preserve fragile food such as meat.
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History and Origin of Tansy
Tansy is commonly found in most parts and regions of mainland Europe, including Ireland and Britain. During the 16th century, this flowering plant was considered to be a ‘necessity for gardens’ in Britain primarily because of its significance as a medicinal herb. The ancient Greeks are believed to be the first ones to have cultivated this plant for its medicinal properties.
It was grown in great abundance in the herb gardens of Charlemagne, particularly during the 8th century. At that time, it was commonly used as a treatment for numerous digestive problems, sores, intestinal worms, fever, rheumatism, and also for measles.
Eventually, during the Middle Ages, and even after, tansy began to be used for inducing abortions as well as to help women conceive and prevent the risk of miscarriages.
Fast forward to the 15th and 16th centuries, and Christians began adding tansy to Lenten meals as a way of honoring the Israelites, mainly for the bitter herbs that they commonly consumed. Another supposed reason for doing that was to control flatulence and prevent parasites that mainly occurred due to the consumption of a lot of fish during the Lenten period.
Interestingly, tansy gained significant popularity in the culinary world where it was used to add flavor to omelets and puddings. In Yorkshire, tansy was typically featured alongside caraway seeds in biscuits that were served at funerals. An herbalist once said that tansy has quite a ‘pleasant taste’ and he went on to recommend that tansy sweetmeats must become a thing.
As opposed to its massive significance back in ancient times, tansy has become more of a nuisance in today’s time. This is because the plant has developed serious invasive tendencies, as a result of which, it often ends up crowding out indigenous natural plant life. Its current status is more of a weed than the incredible herb that it once was many years ago. Additionally, most of its medicinal and therapeutic health benefits have been discredited in today’s time, but it is still used as a key component in several medicines that help treat jaundice, fevers and feverish colds.
Although you aren’t likely to find Tansy growing in any garden or other similar landscapes in today’s time, there are certain characteristics of this plant that set it apart from the rest. These will help you identify this weedy perennial in case you ever come across one.
The tansy plant typically grows to an average height of 7 feet, which converts to about 2 meters tall. Its stem is usually erect and stout, sports a reddish-brown color, and grows almost 50-150 cm tall. The plant is commonly found growing in gardens, lakeshores, irrigation ditches, pastures, meadows, prairies, disturbed habitats, vacant lots, railroads, and moist valley bottoms, to name a few.
Tansy leaves are alternate and pinnately lobed. They grow up to 10-15 cm long, which is around 3.9-5.9 inches. They have a unique and prominent fern-like appearance, which is mainly due to the leaves being divided at the center. This division creates seven lobes, which are further divided into smaller lobes that are characterized by their saw-tooth edges. These toothy edges are what give the leaves their distinct appearance.
The fruit produced by this flowering plant is quite small, dry and one-seeded that barely opens to release its seed. Its fruits sport a pretty, yellow color and they grow about 1.8 mm long with five, short toothed crowns.
Just like the fruits, the flowers of this plant are also yellowish in color. They have a flat, round top and a button-like appearance. The blooming period of tansy flowers is somewhere around mid-to-late summer, during which it produces yellow flower heads that grow in thick clusters. The flowers have a very subtle scent that is quite similar to that of camphor leaves, except with hints of rosemary in it.
Considering the fact that tansy is an invasive plant, growing it isn’t generally recommended. However, if you ever need to grow it for its medicinal and curative qualities, there are certain growing tips and requirements of this plant that you must bear in mind.
The best part about growing tansy is that it is one of those low-maintenance plants that don’t require excessive care or attention. In fact, they are excellent insect repellants, and they even provide potassium to the soil in which they are grown.
Like many other low maintenance plants, tansy has very less watering needs, and you don’t need to water it regularly. The plant can also tolerate drought, which means that it can thrive easily in low-water conditions.
Tansy plants grow best under full sun, but they can also make-do with partially shaded conditions in case there is a lack of proper sunlight.
Although tansy has impressive drought-resisting qualities, it does require well-drained and fertile garden soil in order to grow well and reach its maximum growing height.
Despite its invasive nature, tansy is undoubted quite a special plant because of its amazing uses and benefits.
- Tansy leaves are often used to make tansy tea that most people drink for alleviating retention and relieving joint pain.
- Most women drink a hot beverage or herbal tea infused with tansy leaves to encourage regular menstruation and start their menstrual flow.
- The oil extracted from tansy leaves can be applied as an insecticide as well as a pain reliever. However, this kind of application must be done with great caution for it can cause severe allergic reactions in some people.
- The tansy herb is often prescribed for treating migraines since it has the ability to calm down the nerves.
- Tansy leaves consist of numerous active ingredients that are anti-convulsive in nature, and thus, the leaves can help prevent seizures.
- The flowers of this flowering plant are believed to help ease digestion in the body, improve appetite, and stimulate gastrointestinal processes in the body.
- The leaves are often used as a topical application and have shown to help in the killing of lice and bacteria.
Different Varieties of Tansy
Perhaps due to its toxic and aggressive growing properties, there are only three main cultivars of the tansy plant that exist in today’s time. However, they do have great ornamental value, and they look beautiful in gardens, primarily because of their stunning, button-like, yellow flowers.
Take a look at the most common and popular types of tansy plants that have amazing uses and benefits.
As the name suggests, this is the most common and popular type of tansy plant that is native to Eurasia. It was first introduced in the United States sometime during the 1600s as an ornamental plant and was majorly grown for its medicinal uses. The plant naturalized in the east coast and then eventually spread towards the west over a period of certain years.
Common tansy is a perennial plant that typically grows about 3-4 feet tall, but can also reach 6 feet given that it is provided with the right growing conditions. It has multiple stems that grow from a clump. This gives it a very shrub-like appearance. A bizarre fact about this type of tansy is that it releases a very strong, pungent kind of an odor when it is crushed.
The flowering period of the common tansy starts somewhere around the middle of July and ends in September, during which it produces button-like yellow flowers with alternate leaves that have a great resemblance to fern leaves.
This plant commonly grows in a wide range of habitats such as unmaintained gravel pits, pastures, disturbed natural areas, mining areas and even along trails, roadsides and field margins. Since the plant is highly invasive, it can greatly disrupt wildlife habitats, destroy livestock, severely affect forage and pasture capacity, and also hinder the effects of landscape and reforestation.
Common tansy also has a tendency to reproduce by rhizomes and seeds. The seeds are usually spread about with the help of water and wind, while fully mature tansy plants spread because of dense patches that are formed by its creeping rhizomes.
Interestingly though, this tansy plant is full of volatile oils that are distilled from the leaves and are used as a medicinal wash to treat roundworm, and also to aid abortions. The leaves and flowers of this plant are quite aromatic and are often used as a substitute for sage in cooking.
This tansy variety is also commonly known as ‘fern-leaf tansy’ and is a city cousin of the Common Tansy plant. It grows to an average height of 2-3 feet and has really long and broad leaves. Compared to the leaves of the common tansy, its leaves are more down-curving and finely cut.
Curly leaf tansy is quite a dense plant and has notable decorative properties. It is a perennial plant that produces yellow, button-like flowers, similar to those produced by the common tansy plant. The yellow flowers provide a striking contrast against the bright green leaves that have a very feathery appearance. The leaves also give off a nice, aromatic scent on being touched.
The flowering period of the curly leaf tansy begins during the summer and is mainly deciduous. Unlike its cousin, this tansy variety is less invasive and has greater uses. It thrives best in full sun to partial shade conditions and requires regular to occasional watering. It is incredibly drought-tolerant, but it does need adaptable and well-drained soils in order to grow well.
In terms of culinary usage, the leaves of this plant have a very bitter-spicy kind of flavor and are often used sparingly in many food dishes for an extra flavor kick.
Other than that, the curly leaf tansy has many medical benefits, and it has proven to be a strong de-worming remedy. It greatly helps treat migraines, kidney weakness, and liver disorders. Many women also use this plant for stimulating menstrual and uterus bleeding. Additionally, the plant has many external uses such as relieving sprains, treating various skin conditions and reducing swelling, to name a few.
Curly leaf tansy has several other uses inside the home. It has proven to be an excellent natural disinfectant to kill bacteria and other unwanted species in the home. One way of using it is to rub its leaves on windowsills and counters to keep away flies and other insects. Dried leaves and flowers of this plant work amazingly well to keep away mice and ants. If you have pets in the house, you can rub its leaves on your pets’ coats in order to deter pet fleas.
Golden Buttons Tansy
Scientifically known as Tanacetum vulgare ‘Isla Gold,’ the Golden Buttons Tansy is a tall, stout plant that produces dark green foliage which grows about 1.2 m high. This tansy variety commonly grows alongside a river in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.
This variety is popularly grown for its stunning foliage, which sports beautiful bright yellow, fern-like leaves that are quite aromatic. The color of the leaves is so striking that they create a tremendous impact even from a distance. It also perfectly complements all other colors that are typically found in a garden.
The golden button tansy plant grows to an average height of 3 feet and spreads almost 24 inches. It grows best under the full sun for more than 6 hours, but can also do well in part shade for about 4-6 hours. It has average watering needs and doesn’t really need to be watered on a regular basis. Its blooming period begins somewhere during mid-summer or late summer, and it has a medium growth rate.
The alternate, pinnate leaves of this plant look great with the discoidal flowers that grow about 6-10 mm and consist of disc-florets. When looked at from above, the flowers have quite a subtle kind of depression in the center that is not very noticeable. The center also has smaller disc-florets as compared to the surrounding areas of the flower.
The plant greatly attracts butterflies and birds when grown in gardens mainly because of its splendid yellow and green shades. In gardens, the plant is best-grown patio containers, cottage gardens, and eclectic gardens. Other than that, it is a fantastic option for growing as a border plant, cut foliage, cut flowers, flower containers, fragrant foliage, and scented flowers.
This tansy variety is less weedy compared to other cultivars but is also less fragrant when bruised or crushed. It doesn’t have any serious diseases or insect problems but does have the tendency to be aggressive when provided with optimum growing conditions.
It is best for naturalized areas like cottage gardens where it can spread easily, and it also self-seeds without any hindrance. This is essential to remember because of its aggressive growing tendencies. However, it is not at all recommended for growing on garden borders and beds because it grows rhizomes that that can be quite difficult to remove.
If you ever decide to grow the tansy plant in your garden, it is best if you plant it in containers and pots so that you are better able to control its rapid growth!