Tanacetum vulgare, or tansy, is a perennial favorite among gardeners who value its height, beautiful leaves and long-lasting yellow flowers. Although nowadays mostly used as a trimming and border plant, tansy is, in fact, a very old herb with a rich history steeped in Greek mythology and Christian theology. Tansy was also a very often used health herb and its unique rejuvenating powers have rescued many unfortunates from a variety of illnesses and ailments.
Tansy was a well-known herb to various ancient peoples, particularly the Greeks. It is postulated that tansy's very name comes from the Greek word for "immortal," athanaton. This, according to the ancient writer Dodoens, was due to the long life of tansy's flowering buds. Another writer, Ambrosius, believed the connection was with tansy's role in preserving the dead from physical corruption. Apparently tansy had a place in Greek funeral rites. Ganymede, the beautiful Trojan prince, was supposedly made immortal by taking tansy after he was carried away to Mt. Olympus by Zeus, who was enamored by Ganymede's physical perfection.
It is tansy's role in medieval Christianity, however, that is most fascinating. Tansy was one of the plants dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and each year Lent officially ended with the eating of a special dish called a "tansy." The fresh young leaves of the plant were mixed and cooked with eggs, cream, flour, sugar, and wine and eaten on Easter Sunday. Christian writers at the time believed that tansy could purify "bad humours" from the body that had accumulated there during the long Winter and restrictive Lenten diet of salted fish. Other writers believe that Christians ate the "tansies" as a remembrance of the bitter herbs traditionally eaten by the Jewish at Passover.
Medieval Europeans used tansy as a culinary spice and as a replacement for nutmeg and cinnamon. Tansy was also brewed up as a tea which, despite its bitter taste, was a popular Lenten beverage and many a hearty meal was topped off with tansy pudding. All of this leads us to the inevitable conclusion that tansy was once a very popular and well-known herb that was safely used by many, and that it had mythological links to immortality and eternal life.
In medieval times, tansy can be used to help support a variety of health concerns. Its most well-known use was for expelling intestinal worms, particularly in children. Children infected by these parasites would have a cup of tansy tea in the morning, and another at night. Tansy leaves were also used by elderly Europeans for such things as stomach upset, a wash for wounds, fever, and the roots can be used to help support gout. Tansy, however, is of value in resolving several other complaints which we'll discuss below. But what makes tansy "tick?"
Tanacetin, a bitter principle, is found mostly in the flowers. Bitter herbs typically stimulate the digestive tract to greater activity. The herb also contains smaller amounts of tannic acid (an astringent found in a great many plants), sugars, various glycosides, camphor, and essential oil. The essential oil contains thujone. Thujone is found in other herbs, most notably sage, and is a good antiseptic. It has also been shown to be a uterine stimulant in animals. It is for this reason that tansy has an age-old reputation as an effective abortifacient.
Because of this, tansy should never be given to or used by pregnant women.
Tansy is also an excellent carminative that removes excess gas from the digestive tract. Nausea, feeble digestion, and ulcers can all be helped by tansy. Tansy can also be used successfully in resolving jaundice.
Tansy is a good diuretic, making it useful for some kidney complaints and excessive water retention. Tansy is also a little-known supportive for prostatitis. Tansy is a powerfully antispasmodic herb. This quality, and tansy's ability to act specifically on the prostate, make it valuable for acute prostatic difficulties. Tansy is usually combined in equal parts with either kava kava, golden seal, or agrimony in resolving prostatitis.
While tansy needs to be avoided by pregnant women, its ability to stimulate the uterus, makes it superb for blocked or painful menstruation. Tansy is usually combined in equal parts with chamomile or peppermint for support of amenorrhea or dysmenorrhea. Along these same lines, tansy is effective as a douche for leukorrhea.
Externally, sprains, inflammations, swellings, and painful joints can all be eased with a hot fomentation of tansy. Soak some torn cotton towel strips in the hot infusion and then wrap the strips around the affected area. Remove and replace when cool, and repeat several times. Tansy can also be used externally as a wash for eruptive skin problems like chicken pox.
Stephen Bynes, PhD, DNT, CNC - Tansy: an Herb with a Rich History
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Hot tea brewing method: Bring freshly drawn cold water to a rolling boil. Place 1 tea bag for each cup into the teapot. Pour the boiling water into the pot, cover and let steep for 10-15 minutes. Pour into your cup; add milk and natural sweetener to taste. Drink a maximum of 2 cups a day.
Iced tea brewing method: (to make 1 liter/quart): Place 5 tea bags into a teapot or heat resistant pitcher. Pour 1 1/4 cups of freshly boiled water over the tea itself. Steep for 10-15 minutes. Quarter fill a serving pitcher with cold water. Pour the tea into the serving pitcher straining the tea bags. Add ice and top-up with cold water. Garnish and sweeten to taste.
Do not use tansy for more than ten days continuously and do not exceed the doses given above. It is recommended that parents consult with an herbalist, a reliable medical herbal guide, or a health professional familiar with herbal therapeutics before administering tansy (or any other herb or medicine) to a child.
Do not take if you are, or think that you may be, pregnant.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Products are intended to support general well being and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure any condition or disease. If conditions persist, please seek advice from your medical doctor. Information provided at ZooScape.com relies partly on Traditional Uses. The essence of the current American rule on Traditional Uses is, as stated by FTC, "Claims based on historical or traditional use should be substantiated by confirming scientific evidence, or should be presented in such a way that consumers understand that the sole basis for the claim is a history of use of the product for a particular purpose."