The name Tansy is probably derived from the Greek word Athanasia which signifies immortality, either because it lasts so long in flower, or because it is so capital for preserving dead bodies from corruption. Tansy was said to have been given to Ganymede to make him immortal.
The Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare--"buttons,"--bed of Tansy), a Composite plant very familiar in our hedgerows and waste places, being conspicuous by its heads of brilliant yellow flowers, is often naturalized in our gardens for ornamental cultivation. Its leaves smell like camphor, and possess a bitter aromatic taste; whilst young they were commonly used in times past, and are still employed, when shredded, for flavouring cakes, puddings, and omelets. The roots when preserved with honey, or sugar, are reputed to be of special service against the gout, if a reasonable quantity thereof be eaten fasting every day for a certain space. The fruit is destructive to round worms.
The seed also of the Tansy is a singular and appropriate medicine against worms: for "in whatsoever sort taken it killeth and driveth them forth."
In Sussex a peasant will put Tansy leaves in his shoes to cure ague; and the plant has a rural celebrity for correcting female irregularities of the functional health.
The name Tansy is probably derived from the Greek word athanasia which signifies immortality, either, as, says Dodoeus, quia non cito flos inflorescit, "because it lasts so long in flower," or, quia ejus succus, vel oleum extractum cadavera a putredine conservat (as Ambrosius writes), "because it is so capital for preserving dead bodies from corruption." Tansy was said to have been given to Ganymede to make him immortal.
The whole herb contains resin, mucilage, sugar, a fixed oil, tannin, a colouring matter, malic or tanacetic acid, and water. When the camphoraceous bitter oil is taken in any excess it induces venous congestion of the abdominal organs, and increases the flow of urine.
If given in moderate doses the plant and its essential oil are stomachic and cordial, whether the leaves, flowers, or seeds be administered, serving to allay spasm, and helping to promote the monthly flow of women; the seeds being also of particular use against worms, and relieving the flatulent colic of hysteria. This herb will drive away bugs from a bed in which it is placed. Meat rubbed with the bitter Tansy will be protected from the visits of carrion flies.
Ten drops of the essential oil will produce much flushing of the head and face, with giddiness, and with beat of stomach; whilst half a drachm of the oil has been followed by a serious result. But from one to four drops may be safely given for a dose according to the symptoms it is desired to relieve. Cases of epilepsy (not inherited) have been successfully treated with the liquid extract of Tansy in doses of a drop with water four times in the day. The essential oil will toxically produce epileptic seizures.
The plant has been used externally with benefit for some eruptive diseases of the skin; and a hot infusion of it to sprained, or rheumatic parts will give relief from pain by way of a fomentation. In Scotland the dried flowers are given for gout, from half to one teaspoonful for a dose two or three times in the day; or an infusion is drank prepared from the flowers and seeds. This has kept inveterate gout at bay for years.
A medicinal tincture is made (H.) from the fresh plant with spirit of wine. From eight to ten drops of the same may be given with a tablespoonful of cold water to an adult twice or three times in the day.
Formerly this was one of the native plants dedicated to the Virgin Mary; and the "good wives" used to take a syrup of Tansy for preventing miscarriage. "The Laplanders," says Linnoeus, "use Tansy in their baths to facilitate parturition."
At Easter also it was the custom, even, by the Archbishops, the Bishops, and the clergy of some churches, to play at handball (so say the old chroniclers), with men of their congregations, whilst a Tansy cake was the reward of the victors, this being a confection with which the bitter herb Tansy was mixed. Some such a corrective was supposed to be of benefit after having eaten much fish during Lent.
The Tansy cake was made from the young leaves of the plant mixed with eggs, and was thought to purify the humours of the body. "This Balsamic plant" said Boerhaave, "will supply the place of nutmegs and cinnamon."
In Lyte's time the Tansy was sold in the shops under the name of Athanasia.