There are about 70 species of mostly aromatic annuals, perennials, and subshrubs in this genus, which ranges throughout northern temperate regions. It includes members of the daisy family, formerly classified in Balsamita, Chrysanthemum, Matricaria, and Pyrethrum. Many are aromatic, containing pungent volatile oils and insecticidal compounds that may cause unpleasant reactions if handled, or consumed in excess. Most are invasive and need vigilant control in the garden. These members of the daisy family are rich in volatile oils, bitters, and sesquiterpene lactones, which inhibit allergic, inflammatory responses, and are insecticidal. They are extremely pungent, potent herbs and should be used with caution. Tanacetum balsamita is an attractive plant for the silver or white garden. Its leaves were once used as fragrant bookmarks, hence the obsolete common name "bibleleaf". The word "cost" in its more widely used common names "alecost" and "costmary" is from the Sanskrit kustha, an aromatic plant, while "ale" recalls its roll in brewing, and "mary" refers to the Virgin Mary, to whom the plant was dedicated. Tanecetum parthenium (feverfew) was described in old herbals as a remedy for headaches but forgotten until the 1970s when Mrs Anne Jenkins, a doctors wife in Cardiff, Wales, found that it cured her migraine and reported its effectiveness. Clinical trials in the 1980s supported evidence that it is indeed an effective and relatively safe remedy in many cases of migraine. Insecticides based on pyrethins were first made from the flowers of red pyrethrum (T. coccineum syn. Chrysanthemum coccineum, Pyrethrum roseum), and were known as Persian Insect Powder. The flowers of T. cinerariifolium were later found to be more effective. Dried flowers and powder retain their insecticidal properties almost indefinately. Pyrethrins are non-toxic to mammals. Tanacetum vulgare was important as a strewing herb in the 16th century. It contains thujone, and insecticidal substance also found in Artemisia absinthium (See, Wormwood), which is highly toxic in excess. Tansy featured in a number of Easter rituals in the British Isles, as a cleansing herb after the Lenten fast, and symbol of the bitter Passover herbs. Tansy cakes, a kind of omelet, were traditionally eaten at this time, and awarded to the victor in a handball game played in the parishes between clergy and congregation. Tanacetum is from the Greek athanasia, "immortality", possibly referring to the long-lived flowers of certain species, or to the practice of packing corpses with tansy leaves to preserve them and deter insects until burial.

Strongly aromatic, erect, rhizomatous perennial with dark green, pinnate leaves, to 15cm (6in) long, divided into 7-10 pairs of lanceolate, pinnately lobed or toothed leaflets. Clusters of yellow, button-like flowers, to 1cm (½in) across, are borne in late summer and autumn.

Common Name:
Botanical Name:
Tanacetum vulgare syn. Chyrsanthemum vulgare
Native Location:
Well-drained to dry, stony soil in sun. Remove dead flower heads or Tanacetum parthenium to prevent excessive self-seeding. Tanacetum vulgare is invasive.
By seed sown at 10-13°C (50-55°F) in spring (species and some variants only); by division in spring or autumn; by basal cuttings in spring; by semi-ripe cuttings in summer.
Whole plants (T. parthenium, T. vulgare) are cut when flowers, and leaves are picked as required, and used fresh or dried in infusions, liquid extracts, powders, and tinctures. Tanacetum vulgare is distilled for oil. Leaves (T. parthenium) are sometimes eaten fresh, or dried for use in tablets to treat migraine, rheumatism, and arthritis. Flowers (T. cinerariifolium are picked as they open and are dried for powder.
60cm-1.2m (2-4ft)
Var. Crispum
(fern-leafed tansy)

Has finely cut leaves; less invasive than the species.
Isla Gold
Has golden foliage that withstands full sun. Originated at West Acre Gardens, Norfolk, England.
Silver Lace
Has white-variegated leaves.
Parts Used:
Whole plant, Oil
Chemical Constituents:
  • Bitters
  • Borneol
  • Camphor
  • Resin
  • Tanacetin
  • Tanacetol
  • Thujone
  • Properties:
    A bitter, acrid, warming herb with a pungent aroma. It expels intestinal parasites, benefits the digestion, and stimulates the uterus.
    Known Effects:
  • Stimulates uterine contractions
  • Stimulates appetite
  • Kills intestinal parasites

  • Miscellaneous Information:
    Tansy is a powerful herb that should be avoided or used only under strict medical supervision.
    Possible Additional Effects:
  • May treat pain
  • May cause euphoria
  • May treat roundworms and pinworms
  • May treat menstrual difficulties
  • Medicinal Uses:
    Mainly used as an enema for expelling roundworms and threadworms in children, and topically in lotions for scabies, lice and fleas.
    Warnings and Precautions:
    The herb is possibly unsafe for internal use, especially in pregnancy, although sometimes recommended for nausea and failure to menstruate.
    Excess causes abortion, venous congestion of abdominal organs, and convulsions.
    Tansy oil is highly toxic for both internal and external use, and very small amounts may prove fatal.
    This herb, especially as tansy oil, is subject to legal restrictions in some countries.

    Don't take if you:
  • Are pregnant, think you may be pregnant, or plan pregnancy in the near future
  • Have any chronic disease of the gastrointestinal trct, such as stomach or duodenal ulcers, reflux esophagitis, ulcerative colitis, spastic colitis, diverticulosis, or diverticulitis

  • Consult your doctor if you:
  • Take this herb for any medical problem that doesn't improve in 2 weeks (There may be safer, more effective treatments.)
  • Take any medicinal drugs or herbs including aspirin, laxatives, cold and cough remedies, antacids, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, supplements, other prescription or non-prescription drugs

  • Pregnancy:
    Dangers outweigh any possible benefits. Don't use.
    Dangers outweigh any possible benefits. Don't use.
    Infants and Children:
    Treating infants and children under 2 with any herbal preparation is hazardous.
    Dangers outweigh any possible benefits. Don't use.
  • Store in cool, dry area away from direct light, but don't freeze.
  • Store safely out of reach of children.
  • Don't store in bathroom medicine cabinet. Heat and moisture may change the action of the herb.

  • Safe Dosage:
    Consult your doctor for the appropriate dose for your condition.
    Rated dangerous, particularly in children, persons over 55 and those who take larger than appropriate quantities for extended periods of time.
    Adverse Reactions, Side Effects or Overdose Symptoms:
    Signs and Symptoms What to Do

    Coma Seek emergency treatment
    Convulsions Seek emergency treatment
    Diarrhea Discontinue. Call doctor immediately.
    Dilated Pupils Seek emergency treatment
    Nausea or Vomiting Discontinue. Call doctor immediately
    Weak, Rapid Pulse Seek emergency treatment
    Culinary Uses:
    Leaves are used with discretion for flavoring; traditionally added to a kind of custard, known as a tansy, and to tansy cakes and puddings.
    The Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Bown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. pp. 381-382
    Vitamins, Herbs, Minerals & Supplements The Complete Guide by H. Winter Griffith, MD. Copyright©1998 Fisher Books pp. 449-450