Tansy is a well familiar typical herb of the cottage garden. Its feathery foliage and yellow buttons are very attractive. In the past it was considered dispensable, not just for medicinal purposes, but also as a strewing herb and to help preserve meat, since it has powerful preservative properties. Thus, meat was often packed in Tansy leaves and bunches of the herb were hung in kitchens to ward off flies. The ancients did not mention Tansy as a healing herb, but it became popular in medieval times. The famous Abbess Hildegard of Bingen mentions it as a remedy for catarrh and cough. Although we don't know for sure, it is likely that this herb was originally sacred to the Goddess. However, in medieval times it became dedicated to Mary and from then on it was blessed in the parish churches on Ascension Day (15th August) as one of the sacred herbs of the '9-herb bundles'. This is slightly ironic, considering its particular feminine applications. It was also associated with the time of lent and it was often included in special lent dishes, such as omelettes, or used as a spring blood cleansing tonic. The pilgrims took Tansy with them to America where the governor of Massachusetts deemed it so important an herb that he ordered everybody to grow it. It did not take long for Tansy to escape the sheltered gardens and make its own way across the vast expanse of the United States, steadily colonising almost every state. Today it is considered a troublesome weed. Despite its toxic potential it rarely causes any harm to cattle or people - its inhibitive bitterness prevents excessive use. Still, it should be mentioned that large doses of this herb are poisonous.
In the past Tansy was used for a wide variety of conditions from coughs and colds to fever and jaundice. Most famously it was used as a vermifuge and insect repellent. Women used the herb to bring on delayed menstruation. Externally the herb was sometimes applied as a compress for varicose veins, bruises, sties and swellings. However, these days it is almost never used medicinally due to its toxicity - Tansy contains thujone. Even external use is not really recommended as thujone may be absorbed through the skin.
Tansy was used to ward off evil and disease. It could be hung above stable doors to protect the animals against evil spells and illness. Planted around the house it drives away thunder and lightening. Incense made from this herb was used to smudge children for protection and cleansing. It was also used as a funerary herb. The corpse was bedded on Tansy flowers of immortality.
Not all herbs are suitable in pregnancy, breastfeeding or for young children, or if you are unwell, or taking any medication. If in doubt, please ask a medical herbalist or healthcare practitioner.