A tansye

18th March 2013

Today’s plant has got a long association with this time of year, i.e. Easter, Lent and Passover, and was possibly one of the most widely grown garden herbs as it had a wide range of both medicinal and culinary uses.

Tansy Tanacetum vulgare is a common perennial found on roadsides, waste ground, hedgebanks and riverbanks. It is a member of the Daisy family and grows up to 1.2m tall and produces a cluster of small button like yellow flowers in mid summer. At this time of year you can locate the plants by looking for the dead stems and seed heads left over from last year.

Last year’s dead flower heads of Tansy Tanacetum vulgare
Once, located have a close look around the base of the dead stems, and hopefully in among the grass and moss you should find fern-like young basal leaves just coming through.  If you are in any doubt, as to whether or not you have got the right plant, give the leaves a crush and you should notice the strong medicinal like smell.

The young leaves
The association with Easter and Lent stems from the Middle Ages where it was thought that the increased consumption of fish during lent caused people to have worms and Tansy is recognised as being an extremely good vermifuge. The plant was consumed in the form of Tansy cakes or Tansy pudding.  There is also an association with the bitter herbs consumed during Jewish Passover which is at the same time as Easter.  The plant was traditionally used in conjunction with eggs and was used to flavour custards, puddings, and omelettes and the name “tansye” was subsequently used to describe any herb flavoured omelette. In Ireland it is also used to flavour black pudding.

The taste of Tansy is indeed very strong, and aromatic with a bitter aftertaste so it needs to be used sparingly. Try adding a small amount of chopped leaves to pancakes, or in salad dressings.  It does contain a chemical called thujone which is also in Mugwort, Yarrow, Wild Sage and Cypresses, which is considered toxic in large amounts and may be harmful to the developing fetus, so it is recommended to avoid eating Tansy during pregnancy and not to consume too much……however once you have tasted it, I’m sure you’ll agree that eating too much is unlikely.


Kev Palmer





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