A Tisket a Tansy

Here I am ... writing my inaugural blog.... thinking what should I write about? It's summer... maybe a recipe on how to make sun tan oil? Or natural bug repellent ? Or a step by step how to on solid perfumes?

Apparently neither. I'm starting with my weird quirky side. Ha.  As I'm strangely drawn to the nerdy experience I'm having with the yellow blobs I had the opportunity of stumbling upon last Saturday... Tansy .... Tansies (insert suddent random thought - what is the plural word for it? Pansy/Pansies? Alright I'm going with Tansies)? 

So I stumbled across a huge patch of tansy plants during one of the foraging day trips I took... and just looking at the bobbing yellow flowers gave me such an intense feeling of joy! It's like a jolt of sunshine in your face and in your veins!  I instantly wanted to do something with it... make something with it. Did I know what? No. But seriously... forage first, decide later. At the very least, I'd dry it and put it on my inspiration shelf (yes I have one of those...) right?

Ok - no plan but a vague memory of Tansy pudding and tansy tea cakes ... the English desserts from my days living in the UK - I went off to forage the golden buttons ... happy, sun burnt and surrounded by goldenrod yellow. The goofy herbal initiate in me is majorly happy.

What exactly is  tansy you may ask? The nerdy side of me will tell you Tansy  (Tanacetum vulgare) is a perennial, herbaceous flowering plant of the asteracea family... aka the sunflower family.... it's considered an invasive noxious toxic weed here in WA state. 

Yet in the 18th century, it was widely used as a herb and cooked with especially during Easter. Tansy leaves and the juice of tansy was mixed in to make Tansy cakes in England during the time of Lent. Apparently popular stuff with archbishops and bishops!!! And many even drank tansy tea as well. From what I gather that was some seriously bitter tonic to be downing for folks!
Being raised a roman catholic I was highly amused to see recipes for Tansy Pudding come up as part of the Easter tradition.

Hey, you want to go the medieval route? See the Tansy pudding recipe below from  A New and Easy Method of Cookery by Elizabeth Cleland (1755). Just don't ask me what the measurement conversion is for a "Mutchkin of Cream" and "two Gills of the Juice of Spinage". I've apparently misplaced my mutchkin and gills.

Tansy has also been predominantly used for expelling worms and other parasites from children... I said expelling parasites... NOT expelling children... well .. ok, you get the gist. And the herb has also been used as a treatment for rheumatism and gout as well as for kidney afflictions and hysteria.
And it has also been known to be a "strewing herb" - where people would toss it all over the floor of their homes as a form of insect repellent and room freshener. Frankly speaking, methinks the sneaking suspicion is they were just prepping for the hippy flower power love age EARLY... The creative side of me is thrilled to also learn that Tansy plant has also been used as a form of green and yellow dye!

Then there's the bit about how historically tansy has also been used as a method to end unwanted pregnancy or perhaps one considered it a very medieval method of contraception. Many women in the 18th century drank a strong tea made of tansy leaves and flowers which caused a miscarriage. And there have been reports of deaths in women attempting to use the tea as an abortion method.

The primary active ingredient which makes this particular herb so toxic (and probably so effective then) is thujone. 

Which got me to think - where is that fine line between herbal treatment and just blatant poisoning?

After all, tansy in large doses can also have a tendency to cause intense violent gastric pain .. and yes flatulence and spasms... . There I said it....flatulence. Which then maybe answers the question of that's why there was so much incense burning really since tansy was so popular then ... :) ... Ok ok I hear people already threatening me with "fire and brimstone" hairy eyeball look....relax people... God gave me a sense of humor... I'm sure he's smiling... and if he isn't -  here's the pause kneeling and sending God a quick tweet-o-prayer " Dear God, Please don't send fire and brimstone... and if you do, can you do it after I hit the "Publish" button. Thank you. Love you too Jesus (insert heart emoji)!" ...

back to my blog ....

So I have to ask (and wished I was a fly on the wall in one of those medieval kitchens) how much did one cook with tansy to make it just tasty and wholesome enough ... and then how much did one tip the bottle/bowl/spoon just a wee bit too much to cause undesirable guests to leave in a hurry or acquiesce to a request in a hurry? Or maybe she changed her mind and she's not having a child with THAT man... cutting off the lineage right there. Too garish? Really?

Did you know that the ancient foundations of Greek pharmacy was heavily funded by the wealthy because poisoning was raised to quite an exquisite art form during the first century BC? As a method to remove the annoyingly wealthy, powerful and aristocratic. Which spurred an equally dazzling effort to discover effective antidotes. Imagine their apothecary cabinets!

So coming back full circle - now I have a bunch of tansies .... and I'm deciding... dare I treat it like a herb? Or does it go in my slowly growing poison cabinet (yeah that's best reserved for another post). And many of my herbalist instructors have repeatedly told me - one doesn't throw away herbs ... it's disrespectful to the plants and the forest you foraged it from.

After all it is having a slight resurgence ... seriously! I mean folks are coming around now to using it as a spice... and even baking with it again in cakes and puddings!!! Apparently it's quite a lovely substitute for cinnamon and nutmeg... So hey maybe it can be categorized as a spice AND a herb ...

So...in closing ,if you ever get invited over for Easter to someone's home.. who just so happens to announce tansy pudding or tansy cake as the menu item... Just make sure the person that's cooking for you really really likes you ... And I mean REALLY likes you. Otherwise, befriend a toxicologist and/or a herbalist who knows an antidote. 


Wikipedia - Tansy
Annie's Remedy - Tansy
A Modern Herbal - by Mrs M Grieve
Culpeper's Complete Herbal - by Nicholas Culpeper
East West Herbal Course - Michael Tierra OMD and Leslie Tierra LAC
Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility, & Family Limitation in America , 1760-1820 Susan E Klepp
A New and Easy Method of Cookery by Elizabeth Cleland (1755)

On a more serious note: The usual obligatory schpiel - I'm not condoning poisoning, abortion, or promoting one belief over another and I'm not dispensing any medical advice. If you want more information on Tansy as a herbal remedy or a plant, please kindly do the necessary research and seek professional advice from a certified professional herbalist/medical practitioner. Seriously - don't go poisoning people folks. 


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