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Despite serious safety concerns, the parts of the tansy plant that grow above the ground are used to make medicine. Tansy is used for digestive tract problems including stomach and intestinal ulcers, certain gallbladder conditions, gas, bloating, stomachache, stomach spasms, and poor appetite.
Tansy is a perennial member of the aster family, with serrated, fernlike leaves and flat bright yellow flowers that resemble buttons. Originally native to Europe and Asia, tansy is now widely grown and has a number of traditional medicinal uses, though most modern herbalists warn against its use by laymen. The active constituents are toxic in large doses, and it’s difficult to judge the amount of thujone the most toxic of its elements without a chemical analysis. Its most common medicinal use was to ‘bring on a stalled period’, a euphemism for abortifacient. A strong tea made of tansy leaves and flowers can cause miscarriage, and there have been reports of deaths in women attempting to use the tea in this way. Tansy was used medicinally by the ancient Greeks, included in Charlemagne’s personal herb garden, and cultivated throughout the middle ages as a remedy for a wide range of ailments. The volatile oil can be toxic even used externally, so care should be taken when using tansy for medicinal purposes. Despite these warnings, tansy is also used in cooking, and in small amounts adds a spicy tang to salads akin to cinnamon or nutmeg.