Tansy – Miscellany of the 22 botanicals


Tansy is one of those plants that you smell before you see. It’s aroma can hang in the air and waft along its riverbank home.  The smell is unique, and yet it show a smilarity to it’s cousins yarrow, mugwort and wormwood all of which contain a chemical called thujone. I’ve often found that when smelling tansy people can start to look wistful as the smell can take them back to childhood. A time remembered brushing past this pungent plant. Or a time collecting random wild flowers to take home for their mother. This means that many novice foragers won’t know the look of the plant but, will certainly know the smell. Some say it smells of pine, but I’d go with a mixture of camphor and chrysanthemum and with a hint of wormwood from the thujone. Indeed, the scent is so strong that when the body of Henry Dunster, a 17th century puritan, was recently exhumed the scent of tansy remained.

Native to Europe and Asia it has managed to spread itself across much of the globe. First cultivated by the ancient Greeks whom we blame for its march all over Europe. The puritans bought it to North America and for some it is about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit. Washington state for example call it a, “Yellow topped invader”, and have put it on their noxious weed list. With little wonder too as it has spread throughout America across Canada and even into the cold icy grip of Alaska.

Tansy has long since been used to treat intestinal worms and this helps to explain why tansy pudding is often eaten at Easter time. The forager knows quite well that food (away from the coast), starts in abundance around Easter. It’s a time of plenty, a time of renewal. Traditionally, we’d have been eat surviving on meat throughout the winter months and lot of it. In the days before fridge-freezers this meat could have most certainly contained worms. It would therefore make sense to eat a pudding that would  sort out this little, wriggly little problem.

Wild Tansy growing at Sunderland farm

Using Tansy in food recipies

Tansy Pudding

This recipe is from a the 1844 cookbook,  The Lady’s Own Cookery Book and Dinner Table Directory.

Beat sixteen eggs very well in a wooden bowl, leaving out six whites, with a little orange-flower water and brandy; then add to them by degrees half a pound of fine sifted sugar; grate in a nutmeg, and a quarter of a pound of Naples biscuit; add a pint of the juice of spinach, and four spoonfuls of the juice of tansy; then put to it a pint of cream. Stir it all well together, and put it in a skillet, with a piece of butter melted; keep it stirring till it becomes pretty thick; then put it in a dish, and bake it half an hour. When it comes out of the oven, stick it with blanched almonds cut very thin, and mix in some citron cut in the same manner. Serve it with sack and sugar, and squeeze a Seville orange over it. Turn it out in the dish in which you serve it bottom upwards.

Tansy Cake

If you can get your head around ye olde English here is a great recipe for Tansy cake. It was first published in Liber Cure Cocorum 1430.  I’m pretty sure a skillet is needed, beyond that you are on your own!

Breke egges in bassyn and swyng hem sone,
Do powder of peper þer to anone;
þen grynde tansy, þo iuse owte wrynge,
To blynde with þo egges with owte lesynge.
In pan or skelet þou shalt hit frye,
In buttur wele skymmet wyturly,
Or white grece þou make take þer to,
Geder hit on a cake, þenne hase þou do,
With platere of tre, and frye hit browne.
On brode leches serve hit þou schalle,
With fraunche mele or oþer metis with alle.

Botanist and tonic with a garnish of tansy

Tansy works as a cocktail syrup and it pairs really well with the citrus piney notes

Tansy in Cocktails

Tansy works as a cocktail syrup and it pairs really well with the citrus piney notes of a spruce tree or with rosemary. However, it’s not something to binge on as it can cause a whole host of strange and potentially deadly symptoms. Please read this article about health risks associated with thujone before you dabble.

Warnings aside, the easiest way to use it is to make a syrup and this can be done very simply by adding a teaspoon of fresh tansy (and a sprig of spruce tip if you have some), to half a cup of hot water. Adding half a cup of sugar then stirring and filtering. A nip of vodka will help to preserve the syrup for up to six months.

The Shamans delight Cocktail


  • 1 part/30ml Tansy and Spruce syrup
  • 1 part Botanist Gin
  • Juice of half a lime

Add all the ingredients to an ice filled cocktail shaker. Shake until the drink has chilled and strain over ice into a coupe. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

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