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These plants, funghi and insect illustrations
are part of my botanical oracle deck

Tanacetum vulgare | Tansy

Botanical Overview of Tansy

  • Scientific Name: Tanacetum vulgare

  • Common Names: Tansy, Common Tansy, Golden Buttons, Bitter Buttons, Parsley Fern

  • Family: Asteraceae (Daisy family)

  • Description: Tansy is a hardy, perennial herb that typically grows between 60-120 cm tall. It has erect, sturdy stems and pinnate, fern-like leaves that are deeply divided and have a strong, pungent aroma. The plant produces bright yellow, button-like flowers arranged in dense, flat-topped clusters, blooming from mid to late summer. These flowers lack the ray petals seen in many other members of the daisy family. Tansy’s robust growth and vivid flowers make it a striking plant in gardens and wild landscapes.

tanacetum vulgare botanical illustration

Properties of Tansy

  • Chemical Constituents: Contains essential oils (notably thujone and camphor), flavonoids, sesquiterpene lactones, and tannins. Thujone is the primary component that gives Tansy its distinctive smell and potential toxicity.

  • Edibility: Due to its high thujone content, Tansy is generally not recommended for consumption as it can be toxic, especially in large quantities. Historically, small amounts of Tansy were used as a culinary herb in European cooking, often in puddings and cakes, but this practice has largely fallen out of favor due to safety concerns. Modern use in food is rare and typically limited to very small, controlled amounts.

Distribution and Habitat of Tansy

  • Native Range: Europe and temperate regions of Asia.

  • Preferred Habitat: Tansy thrives in a variety of environments but prefers well-drained, fertile soils and full sun. It is commonly found in meadows, riverbanks, roadsides, and waste areas, often forming dense colonies. Tansy is adaptable to different soil types, including sandy and loamy soils, and can tolerate some drought. In many regions, it has naturalized and can become invasive if not managed properly. It is often cultivated in gardens for its ornamental value and use as a companion plant to repel insects.

Medicinal Properties and Uses of Tansy

  • Traditional Uses: Tansy has a long history in traditional medicine as a treatment for a variety of ailments. It was commonly used as a vermifuge to expel intestinal worms and as a remedy for digestive issues, including bloating and colic. Tansy was also employed to relieve menstrual pain and to stimulate menstruation. The herb was used externally in poultices and washes to treat wounds, skin conditions, and rheumatic pain. In addition, Tansy was believed to have antiviral properties and was used in the treatment of fevers and respiratory infections.

  • Modern Applications: Today, the use of Tansy in herbal medicine is limited due to its potential toxicity. However, it is still valued for its insecticidal properties and is often used in natural pest repellents. The plant can be made into infusions or tinctures for topical use to deter lice, mites, and other insects. Tansy is also sometimes used in aromatherapy, though with caution, for its strong scent and purported calming effects. Given its toxic potential, internal use of Tansy is generally avoided, and any medicinal application should be conducted under professional supervision. In gardens, Tansy is appreciated for its ability to attract beneficial insects and repel pests.

Magical Correspondences and Uses of Tansy in Magical Practice

  • Element: Fire

  • Planet: Jupiter, Sun

  • Magical Properties: Protection, longevity, and strength.

  • Uses: In magical practices, Tansy is revered for its strong protective qualities. It is often used in rituals and spells to safeguard against negative energies and to create protective barriers. Tansy can be included in amulets or sachets to protect individuals and homes from harm. The herb’s association with Jupiter imbues it with energies of expansion, prosperity, and wisdom, making it suitable for rituals aimed at growth and success. Tansy is also used to enhance longevity and strength, both physically and spiritually. It can be burned as incense to purify spaces or scattered around the home to ward off evil spirits. In folk magic, Tansy was traditionally planted around homes to repel pests and protect against witches and illness. The plant’s vibrant flowers are believed to attract positive energy and promote a joyful atmosphere. Its association with fire reflects its ability to cleanse and energize, making it a powerful addition to rituals of renewal and transformation.

Folklore, Legends, and Mythology of Tansy

  • Historical Context: Tansy has been used for centuries in both medicinal and magical contexts. In medieval Europe, it was grown in gardens for its protective qualities and used to repel insects and evil spirits.

  • Folklore: In various European traditions, Tansy was believed to provide protection from witchcraft and to keep away malicious spirits. People would carry sprigs of Tansy or wear it in their clothing as a talisman for safety. The plant was also used in funeral rites to preserve and purify the body, and it was often placed in coffins to protect the deceased on their journey to the afterlife. In some cultures, Tansy was thought to bring good fortune and longevity, and it was used in rituals to promote health and well-being. The herb's strong scent was believed to deter not only physical pests but also unwanted spiritual influences.

  • Mythology: Tansy is linked to themes of immortality and protection in mythology. In Greek mythology, it was associated with the gods’ attempts to grant immortality to mortals. According to legend, Zeus gave Tansy to the hero Ganymede to make him immortal. The plant’s resilience and ability to thrive in various conditions symbolize strength and perseverance, qualities that are reflected in its magical uses. Tansy's role in both healing and warding off harm highlights its dual nature as both a nurturer and a defender in folklore and myth.

Historical Literary Sources

  • "Culpeper’s Complete Herbal" by Nicholas Culpeper (1653): Discusses the medicinal and protective properties of Tansy, emphasizing its use in treating fevers, digestive issues, and as a protective charm.

  • "De Materia Medica" by Dioscorides (1st century AD): An ancient text that includes references to Tansy’s use in traditional medicine for its vermifuge and protective qualities.

  • "A Modern Herbal" by Maud Grieve (1931): Explores the historical and contemporary applications of Tansy, with a focus on its medicinal uses and role in folklore.


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