This plant has long played a role in
funeral rites, in particular, those that speak of death and rebirth.
The leaves of this magick herb were tucked around the body before burial, and the herb's
pentrating scent was thought to help guide the spirits of the dead on their
journey. The name "tanacetum" apparently came from the Greek word for
because the flowers take a long time to fade (and perhaps because of
the plant's association with the dead). Indeed, when Zeus fell in love
with the beautiful young man Ganymede, he was
given tansy to make him immortal. The rebirth theme is carried through in this magick's herbs use in
celebrating Ostara, a festival of rebirth (and fertility). Tansy is
sacred to Mary, but consider this Venus herb when honoring dark
goddesses, due to its connection to death. This magick herb also is helpful in
protection spells, especially in terms of protecting against the
authorities and for journeys. It is excellent for strewing or for cleansing
the space of the magick circle. It is associated with Gemini. In the Victorian language of
flowers, this herb represents a declaration of war upon the recipient, perhaps
because of its traditional association with death.
In England, it was incorporated into cakes during Lent, perhaps in
memory of the Jewish
use of bitter herbs at Passover, or perhaps as a nod to its use as a
spring tonic. Together with lovage and yarrow, it was made into a
cordial once popular in Britain. You can rub this herb on meats to give
them a flavor like rosemary. The flowering tops make a mustard yellow dye on wool
with an alum mordant,
and the young shoots make a green dye. Tansy has a nice herby smell that repels bugs both in dried
form and in the garden - plant it at the four corners of your
vegetable or henbane plot to help repel bugs like the Colorado potato
beetle. It also repels flies, ants, and fleas, but its flowers will
attract beneficial insects like ladybugs and green lacewings as well as bugs
that are just nice to look at, like butterflies. It's a
good herb for composting, because it concentrates minerals in its
leaves, but consider that it can also draw up heavy metals from the soil, so
if your soil is contaminated, you can use tansy as a removal system.
Just remember not to compost the vegetation in that case. Instead,
and take it to the landfill.
Don't make a tea of this plant - it can kill. Generally, herbs that are
good pesticides should not be taken internally, although this is not
true of plants in the mint family (tansy is in the aster family). I saw a comment on an SCA site that
although this herb and others that
are toxic were eaten during the Middle Ages, people of that time might well
have been more tolerant of these alkaloids than we are,
just as, perhaps, we are more tolerant of the alkaloids in New World
plants like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, tobacco, etc., than they were. Don't allow
dogs to chew on it, as it can kill small ones who eat it. It is toxic to all
mammals. My cats
ignore it, though. Most animals avoid strong-smelling plants.
This European native has become naturalized in North America, so much
so that some consider it a weed (as with many herbs), and it is indeed a very
hardy plant, practically rambunctious in its liveliness. However, it is
not the same thing as tansy ragwort, which is considered a noxious weed in many
states and which is much more toxic. Tasnsy spreads by rhizomes and like human beings can be a rampant colonizer, so grow it in a container or
surrounded by turf that is regularly mowed if you want to contain
it. But this desire to spread together with its insect repelling abilities make tansy a
good choice for growing around fruit trees and berry bushes.
Tansy is also known as bachelor's buttons, bitter buttons,
buttons, ginger plant, and gold-buttons.
How to Grow Tansy
Sprinkle on the surface of moist planting medium and gently press in with your
fingertip. Use bottom watering or misting so as not to dislodge
the seeds and put them in indirect light and room temperature to
germinate in one month. If they are balky, give one month
of cold stratification at freezing temperatures. I started the tansy
in the photo from seeds I simply sowed in cellpacks. Tansy
24-36in/60-90 cm tall and is hardy in
zones 3-9 (down to -40F/40C). Tansy needs full sun and can tolerate wind but not salt.
It can grow in pretty much any conditions except shade. In rich soil it will spread much faster.
100 seeds $3.25
Witchcraft & Magic:
Honoring the Dead
Connecting to Gemini
© 2006, 2013 Harold A. Roth; No reproduction without permission