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herbs

tansy the bitter herb

On 08, Jul 2011 | No Comments | In herbs | By All Year Garden

As we were exploring the wild shores of lake Michigan I stumbled upon large clumps of tansy. This bitter plant, despite its rather unpleasant aroma, was so popular during the Middle Ages that dishes were named after it. They used it in practically any recipe, from egg custard to pancakes. As with many old herbs, a lot of medicinal properties were associated with tansy, some real, some mistakenly inferred. It is a mild digestive and becomes quite toxic in large quantities, especially to pregnant women.

The real gift of tansy is that it is a great insect and pest repellant.  It can be very successfully used around vegetable beds to eliminate the Colorado beetle and makes a surprisingly effective mosquito repellant. People used to keep dried tansy bunches on the window sill to keep ants and flies away.

Tansy belongs to the asters family and is quite striking with its round yellow flowers aptly called bitter buttons. It can be used to extract orange coloring.

The plants in the picture looked very happy growing in the sun-drenched sand on the lake shore but I’m sure that regular garden soil will do them just fine. If the bitterness doesn’t phase you, try sprinkling a small amount of finely chopped tansy on a beef casserole or in a batch of pancakes and experience the palate pleasers of ages long ago.