Common Tansy has got many names, Bitter Buttons, Cow Bitter, Mugwort, Golden Buttons. The flowers look like small golden buttons, a fine name for it. The whole plant has a bitter taste and a strong spicy smell. Tansy is native to Eurasia, but is found in almost all parts of mainland Europe. It is common along roads, in field boundaries, banks, but also at the beach.
Common Tansy has a long history of many uses. The ancient Greeks may have been the first to cultivate it as a medicinal herb; the Benedictine monks at St. Gall in Switzerland considered common tansy a cure for many health problems. Because of its repellent abilities it was also used as a vermifuge. Only Tanacetum vulgare is used for medicinal purpose; all species of tansy are toxic.
Common tansy has been cultivated and used for its bug repellent and preservative effects. It was placed on window sills to repell flies, sprigs were placed in bed linen to drive away pests, and it was also useful in gardens as an ant repellent. Common tansy was plant alongside the potatoes to repel the Colorado potato bug. Some insects, notably the tansy beetle, have evolved resistance to tansy and live almost exclusively on it. Bee-keepers have used the dried leaves in order to calm the bees.
In the kitchen it was a flavouring for puddings and omelets, and as a spice in lamb and venison. In Yorkshire tansy and caraway seeds were traditionally in biscuits served at funerals. Meat was rubbed with tansy which kept it from rot for a time, or maybe the strong smell of the herb drowned the stench of meat, which was a bit off! Flowers and leaves are fine for spicing a snaps.
The dried yellow flowers are pretty in floral arrangements. The flowers dye various yellow or green shades.
NB: The plant can provoke contact-allergy. The leaves and flowers are said to be poisonous if consumed in large quantities. The plant's volatile oil is high in thujone, a substance found in absinthe that can cause convulsions.
photo : Skern Ådal, August 2006: grethe bachmann