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Botanical: Tanacetum vulgare (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Compositae
---Habitat---Tansy, a composite plant very familiar in our hedgerows and waste places, is a hardy perennial, widely spread over Europe.
---Description---The stem is erect and leafy, about 2 to 3 feet high, grooved and angular. The leaves are alternate, much cut into, 2 to 6 inches long and about 4 inches wide. The plant is conspicuous in August and September by its heads of round, flat, dull yellow flowers, growing in clusters, which earn it the name of 'Buttons.' It has a very curious, and not altogether disagreeable odour, somewhat like camphor.
It is often naturalized in our gardens for ornamental cultivation. The feathery leaves of the Wild Tansy are beautiful, especially when growing in abundance on marshy ground, and it has a more refreshing scent than the Garden Tansy.
---Cultivation---Tansy will thrive in almost any soil and may be increased, either in spring or autumn, by slips or by dividing the creeping roots, which if permitted to remain undisturbed, will, in a short time, overspread the ground. When transplanting the slips or portions of root, place therefore at least a foot apart.
The name Tansy is probably derived from the Greek Athanaton (immortal), either, says Dodoens, because it lasts so long in flower or, as Ambrosius thought, because it is capital for preserving dead bodies from corruption. It was said to have been given to Ganymede to make him immortal.
Tansy was one of the Strewing Herbs mentioned by Tusser in 1577, and was one of the native plants dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Perhaps it found additional favour as a 'Strewing Herb' because it was said to be effectual in keeping flies away, particularly if mixed with elder leaves.
Parkinson grew Tansy amongst other aromatic and culinary herbs in his garden.
It is connected with some interesting old customs observed at Easter time, when even archbishops and bishops played handball with men of their congregation, and a Tansy cake was the reward of the victors. These Tansy cakes were made from the young leaves of the plant, mixed with eggs, and were thought to purify the humours of the body after the limited fare of Lent. In time, this custom obtained a kind of symbolism, and Tansies, as these cakes were called, came to be eaten on Easter Day as a remembrance of the bitter herbs eaten by the Jews at the Passover. Coles (1656) says the origin of eating it in the spring is because Tansy is very wholesome after the salt fish consumed during Lent, and counteracts the ill-effects which the 'moist and cold constitution of winter has made on people . . . though many understand it not, and some simple people take it for a matter of superstition to do so.'
'This balsamic plant,' says Boerhaave (the Danish physician), 'will supply the place of nutmegs and cinnamon,' and the young leaves, shredded, serve as a flavouring for puddings and omelets. Gerard tells us that Tansy Teas were highly esteemed in Lent as well as Tansy puddings.
From an old cookery book:
'Beat seven eggs, yolks and whites separately; add a pint of cream, near the same of spinach-juice, and a little tansy-juice gained by pounding in a stone mortar; a quarter of a pound of Naples biscuit, sugar to taste, a glass of white wine, and some nutmeg. Set all in a sauce-pan, just to thicken, over the fire; then put it into a dish, lined with paste, to turn out, and bake it.'
Culpepper says: 'Of Tansie. The root eaten, is a singular remedy for the gout: the rich may bestow the cost to preserve it.'
Cows and sheep eat Tansy, but horses, goats and hogs refuse to touch it, and if meat be rubbed with this plant, flies will not attack it. In Sussex, at one time, Tansy leaves had the reputation of curing ague, if placed in the shoes.
The Finlanders employ it in dyeing green.
---Parts Used---The leaves and tops. The plant is cut off close above the root, when first coming into flower in August.
---Constituents---Tanacetin, tannic acid, a volatile oil, mainly thujone, waxy, resinous and protein bodies, some sugar and a colouring matter.
---Medicinal Action and Uses---Anthelmintic, tonic, stimulant, emmenagogue.
Tansy is largely used for expelling worms in children, the infusion of 1 OZ. to a pint of boiling water being taken in teacupful doses, night and morning, fasting.
It is also valuable in hysteria and in kidney weaknesses, the same infusion being taken in wineglassful doses, repeated frequently. It forms an excellent and safe emmenagogue, and is of good service in low forms of fever, in ague and hysterical and nervous affections. As a diaphoretic nervine it is also useful.
In moderate doses, the plant and its essential oil are stomachic and cordial, being anti-flatulent and serving to allay spasms.
In large doses, it becomes a violent irritant, and induces venous congestion of the abdominal organs.
In Scotland, an infusion of the dried flowers and seeds (1/2 to 1 teaspoonful, two or three times a day) is given for gout. The roots when preserved with honey or sugar, have also been reputed to be of special service against gout, if eaten fasting every day for a certain time.
From 1 to 4 drops of the essential oil may be safely given in cases of epilepsy, but excessive doses have produced seizures.
Tansy has been used externally with benefit for some eruptive diseases of the skin, and the green leaves, pounded and applied, will relieve sprains and allay the swelling.
A hot infusion, as a fomentation to sprained and rheumatic parts, will in like manner give relief.
---Preparations and Dosages---Fluid extract, 1/2 to 2 drachms. Solid extract, 5 to 10 grains.
In the fourteenth century we hear of Tansy being used as a remedy for wounds, and as a bitter tonic, and Tansy Tea has an old reputation in country districts for fever and other illnesses.
- Gerard also tells us that cakes were made of the young leaves in the spring, mixed with eggs,
- 'which be pleasant in taste and good for the stomache; for if bad humours cleave thereunder, it doth perfectly concoct them and carry them off. The roote, preserved in honie, or sugar, is an especiall thing against the gout, if everie day for a certaine space, a reasonable quantitie thereof be eaten fasting.'
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Bear in mind "A Modern Herbal" was written with the conventional wisdom of the early 1900's. This should be taken into account as some of the information may now be considered inaccurate, or not in accordance with modern medicine.
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