Tansy in the Pass.

My hubby and I took a much-needed break last weekend and headed southwest, out to the mountains in the Crowsnest Pass.  It was a chilly weekend, grey and drizzly, with high winds that gusted over 100 km/h on Sunday.  Not really walking weather, but we went out anyway.  It’s been a long time since we’ve been there and there’s so much to see.

There weren’t too many wildflowers blooming in the Pass this late in the season – mostly oxeye daisy and a veritable carpet of common tansy (Tanacetum vulgare).  That gold colour really popped in the overcast weather!

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Tansy is considered a noxious weed in Alberta, and it obviously LOVES the mountain climate.  I know tansy was once a fixture of English gardens and it was brought over from Europe to North America for both its medicinal properties and ornamental value.   For such a “common” plant, tansy has an impressive history – the lore associated with it is fascinating!

Some Really Weird and Interesting (and Occasionally Contradictory) Tansy Tidbits:

  • Tansy was commonly used by ancient Greek herbalists.  In Greek mythology, the cup-bearer of the gods, Ganymede, was made immortal by ingesting tansy.
  • In the 8th century AD, European monks used tansy to treat ailments such as intestinal worms, rheumatism, fevers, and measles.
  • In the Middle Ages, tansy was taken to induce abortions…surprisingly, it was also used to prevent miscarriages and aid in conception.  Accidental overdosing and death of the female patients was common.  George R.R. Martin references tansy tea as a means to abort pregnancies in his fictional fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.
  • In the 15th century, Christians began eating tansy with fish during Lent.  They thought that eating fish caused intestinal worms, which would be cured by the plant.
  • Tansy is often used as a companion plant, due to its ability to repel insects such as mosquitoes, ants, ticks, and Colorado potato beetle.
  • A wonderful golden-hued dye can be made from tansy flowers.
  • Tansy’s supposed worm-repellent properties caused it to be used in preparation of the dead for burial:  even up until the 19th century, it was placed in coffins or wrapped into funeral winding sheets to preserve the dead.   American colonists carried this idea a step further and used tansy leaves to repel flies and maggots and slow the spoilage of raw meat in storage.
  • Tansy will cause contact dermatitis in some people (I’m probably one of them, though I didn’t touch any of the plants we saw).
  • As you’ve probably guessed, tansy contains some serious toxins, including thujone (which can cause hallucinations, convulsions and even death).  That’s why no one really uses it in puddings, cheese, salads, or omelets anymore.   Today in the United States, you can consume tansy in alcoholic beverages, as long as the thujone is removed (how one goes about doing that, I do not know).  Apparently, Jack Daniel, the famous 19th century American whiskey tycoon, didn’t take his drink of choice straight up – he sipped it with a bit of sugar and tansy leaves.
  • A single tansy plant can produce up to 50,000 seeds.  Just in case that isn’t enough guarantee of survival, it also reproduces via creeping rootstocks.  No wonder it’s considered invasive.

Does tansy grow where you live?

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Tansy growing on the banks of the Crowsnest River.  Flooding occurred on the river in June of this year and new channels were carved out everywhere.  

(Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tansy and Alberta Wayside Wildflowers, by Linda Kershaw, 2003 Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton).

28 thoughts on “Tansy in the Pass.

  1. It seems that we can buy tansy seeds here so I suppose some people must grow it. BUT I am not sure it is a good idea to grow it, if it is so invasive. I grow a plant called Purple (blue) tansy, phacelia, which takes over the garden a bit, but the bees are mad for it.

  2. I love tansy as a dye plant. I have found a few areas where they don’t mow the ditches and they are tansy heaven. It smells HORRIBLE when cooking it up but I get lovely lemon yellows. I currently have a table covered with dried tansy waiting for me to cut the flowers off of for winter use. A time consuming project.

    I noticed some of the flowerbeds in Field had tansy being grown as a decorative plant.

    • Yes, I saw a public garden in Coleman that had tansy growing in it as well, but it seemed like a more compact cultivar. I know you can get some with variegated leaves, but this had green foliage. Will have to do some more reading on the cultivated types, I wonder if they are aggressive as well.

      I’m pleased to hear that it yields some great dye colour; next year, I’ll have to gather some to test out myself.

  3. We certainly do have it here! I like the bitter smell of the leaves, but had no idea it could cause allergies. I remember references to it as a dish, and being used as a kind of straw to spread on the floors of houses in the plague, and I think Shakespeare mentioned it, but no idea which play it was in. I tried to find it, but found this page instead – interesting!
    http://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/forums/special-topics/tansy-tanacetum-vulgare.html
    Enjoyed reading all these wonderful tidbits! 😀

  4. What an interesting post, I did not know about Tansy. Happy you had a nice break after all your hard work and that you did not mind the weather. It is nice to walk in more blustery weather, come home and snuggle up cozy with a book and hot chocolate;0)

    • Ah, it’s true! We stayed in a lovely little log cabin in the woods while we were there, so we had a nice warm place to rest between our walks. And we definitely didn’t forget the hot chocolate and books! 🙂

    • I know that because of its invasiveness, attempts have been made to remove tansy from some areas…perhaps it doesn’t actually grow near you.

      I’m pleased to have found your blog and look forward to your posts! Have a great week!

  5. I loved all the tansy facts – especially the fact that you explain how invasive it is. I warn everyone against ever planting tansy. It is a beautiful plant and flowers, and I guess has its uses, but it is dangerously invasive. Do not plant it!

  6. Wow, interesting bit of info there. We had them creeping on our beach at the lake and man o man they had lonnnnnng legs. Luckily the sand was soft and you could easily pull them up. But they’d come back no matter what.

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