( Originally Published 1933 )
Cow Bitters, Button Bitters, Tansy
Tansy, also called Chrysanthemum vulgare, Bernh., is native to Europe and naturalized in the eastern United States and Canada, along roadsides, and around farm-yards. It is a robust, weedy plant which soon grows into thick clumps. The whole plant is pleasantly fragrant, of a sharp quality, a little resinous, and slightly reminiscent of the daisy. I have eaten it with no ill effect, but, since it is said to be poisonous, do not advise any one else to indulge in it.
Root. It forms a thick main root creeping along, from which grow thin, wiry rootlets.
Stem. The stems die down yearly, but new ones come up again in the spring. They grow three feet or more high, are ribbed, slightly furry, and leafy all the way up.
Leaf. The leaves are a deep green, finely cut and divided and twice toothed, looking something like ferns, slightly furry on the under sides and smooth above.
Flower. The flowers-come in late summer, have only the disk florets, and are like waxy yellow buttons when they first open. These buttons are quite numerous and in flat-topped clusters.
Seed. The seeds are small and brownish and retain their vitality two years.
Variety. Tanacetum vulgare var. crispum came from seed sent from the Chelsea Botanic Garden. They are ornamental and handsome plants worthy a place in the flower garden. The dark green leaves bend down and have their margins crisped and feathered, are considered more aromatic than those of other varieties, and are grown for distillation.
Tanacetum var. hurohensis, the seed of which came from Correvon, has smaller leaves, narrower and more delicate than those of the Tanacetum pseudoachillea, which has fleshy leaves. Both of them are darker green than T. vulgare. The T. pseudoachillea seed came from Kew. T. herderi is a dwarf, gray-green plant with much cut leaves imported from Europe. T. boreale has a ferny leaf which droops, is distinctively cut, and has a broader leaf surface than most of the tansies. There is said to be a variety with variegated leaves.
HISTORY AND LEGEND
Culpeper says every one must drink tansy in the spring so as not to be sick in summer. Parkinson tells how the young leaves should be shredded small with other herbs, or else the juice of it and other herbs fit for the purpose should be eaten in the spring, some say at Easter. Mrs. Earle says tansy was highly esteemed in old-time gardens, was rubbed over raw meat to keep flies away and prevent decay, and was put inside the coffins at funerals, and that the yellow flowers keep their color when used in "winter posies." Josselyn mentioned it and Prince had it in 1790, also T. californicum, and Bartram in 1814.
Tansy leaves spread about are supposed to be efficacious in destroying fleas.
Medicine. The "National Standard Dispensary" says it has no medicinal use and that it is quite poisonous, a violent, virulent irritant to the stomach and intestines, and that many deaths are caused by it annually. The Pennsylvania Germans, however, used the sap in a poultice and the leaves as a stomachic in tea, also for urinary troubles, and it has been used as an abortive. It is made into a drink for cattle when they are said to have "lost their cud."
Perfume. Small quantities of tansy oil from the dis-tilled tops and leaves are used in toilet waters from time to time.
Food. I give a recipe for tansy pudding which is very good.
Tansy can be grown from divisions, but it also comes readily from seed. It likes the sun and rather heavy soils, but will grow in any good garden soil. A few of the crisp-leaved tansies are handsome in any garden, but the common tansy should be planted in the pasture, or on the edge of a meadow where we can enjoy its fragrance on a hot day as we pass by.
In the United States the center of the production of tansy is in Michigan, where 2,500 pounds are distilled annually. For home consumption the leaves should be cut off as they appear, and one writer says cutting off the flower heads seems to prolong the production of the leaves.