Scientific Name(s): Chrysanthemum vulgare L., Tanacetum vulgare (L.) Bernh.
Common Name(s): Bitter or golden buttons, Garden tansy, Parsley fern, Scented fern, Stinking willie, Tansy
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Dec 21, 2021.
Tansy has no role in modern herbal medicine. Although it is toxic, tansy has been used as a vermifuge, emmenagogue, and antispasmodic. Efficacy has not been proven.
There is no clinical evidence to support a specific dosage of tansy. Classical use of the oil as an anthelmintic was at a dose of 0.1 g/day.
No longer considered safe.
Documented adverse effects (emmenagogue and abortifacient effects). Avoid use.
None well documented.
Tansy may cause contact dermatitis.
Internal poisoning may occur with symptoms of rapid and feeble pulse, severe gastritis, violent spasms, and convulsions. Deaths have been associated with ingestion of the essential oil and tansy infusion (tea).
- Asteraceae (daisy)
Tansy is indigenous to Europe and was introduced to North America either for use in folk remedies or as an ornamental plant. It is an invader of disturbed sites and is commonly found on roadsides and waste areas throughout temperate regions of North America. Tansy is listed as a "noxious weed" in several states.(USDA 2017)
The hardy, aromatic, perennial plant grows erect in large clusters to about 0.5 to 1 m in height but can occasionally grow to nearly 2 m. Stems are smooth or mostly hairless, often purplish-red in color, and branch extensively at the top. The stalkless leaves grow alternately around the stem and are narrow, lance-shaped, and finely divided into leaflets, giving the plant a fern-like appearance. From July to October, mature plants bear dense, flat-topped clusters of small, button-like, yellow flowers, about one-half inch wide.(Awang 1995) Seeds are yellowish-brown with short, 5-toothed crowns. When crushed, the plant emits a strong, aromatic odor sometimes described as unpleasant. Do not confuse this species with other plants referred to as "tansy," such as tansy ragwort. Tansy ragwort (Senecio jacobea) can be distinguished from common tansy by its ray flowers (petals), absence of sharp-toothed leaves, and a long fringe of soft, white hairs on the seeds.(USDA 2017) Tansy is related to feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium).(USDA 2017)
Tansy has been used extensively in traditional medicine for centuries, despite recognition of its potential toxicity. Records of its uses, kept by Charlemagne as well as Swiss Benedictine monks in the 8th century, still exist; tansy was used for the treatment of intestinal worms, rheumatism, fevers, and digestive disorders. Large doses were used to induce abortions. Conversely, smaller doses were thought to enhance fertility and prevent miscarriages.(LeCain 2014) Other indications included treatment of gout, hysteria, kidney weakness, and flatulence. In moderate doses, tansy was used as an antispasmodic. Medieval records also note tansy as a culinary agent used to replace nutmeg and cinnamon, and as a bitter-tasting tea. Tansy pudding was a delicacy commonly associated with the Lenten fast.
Early American history records the use of tansy for funeral shrouds and wreaths. In 1668, the first president of Harvard University was buried in a tansy-lined coffin wearing a tansy wreath. When the Harvard cemetery was relocated in 1846, the tansy in the coffin still held its shape and fragrance.(LeCain 2014) Colonial Americans exploited the preservative properties of tansy, using it for packing meat and other perishable goods. A 17th century governor of Massachusetts listed tansy as a necessary plant for colonial herb gardens. American Indians reportedly used tansy as an insect repellant.(Chiasson 2001)
Tansy is also reputed to have had a place in Greek funeral rites. The name tansy is said to derive from the Greek word athanon, or immortal, either because of the flower's long-lasting nature or because of its ability to preserve dead bodies from decomposition.
Analysis of tansy plant extracts has identified 6 chemotypes distinguished by the components of their essential oil.(Schearer 1984) Fresh tansy yields between 0.2% and 0.6% volatile oil of highly variable composition.(Keskitalo 2001) Variability is further increased, both quantitatively and qualitatively, by the extraction method used.(Chiasson 2001) The volatile oil is dominated by terpenes. In plants grown in the United States, Canada, and England, the major constituent is β-thujone.(Chiasson 2001, Keskitalo 2001) Some genotypes contain as much as 95% thujone(Awang 1995, Gallino 1998) while other varieties are almost thujone-free.(Duke 2002) Major constituents of other genotypes include camphor, isopinocamphone, trans-chrysanthenyl acetate, sabinene, bornyl acetate, or germacrene D.(Hendriks 1989) Sesquiterpene lactones, principally parthenolide, are primary components of strains devoid of thujone.(Awang 1995) The presence of flavones eupatorin, jaceosidin(Schinella 1998) apigenin, diosmetin, jaceidin, jaeosidin, and quercetin also has been recorded.(Awang 1995)
The association between morphological attributes and chemical composition has been investigated in Finnish tansy.(Keskitalo 2001) Strains with the tallest shoots were associated with high yields of camphor and 1,8-cineole. Mixed chemotypes had the shortest shoots.
Uses and Pharmacology
Evidence to support the use of tansy for any pharmacologic indication is lacking. Although roundworms are stunned by thujone and then expelled by the peristaltic action of the intestine, the risk of toxicity is too high to justify use as an anthelmintic. Similarly, use of tansy as an emmenagogue or abortifacient is dangerous.(Awang 1995)
Parthenolide, the major component of some genotypes, impairs platelet activation, induces cyclo-oxygenase-2 expression in macrophages, and activates NF-κB.(Schinella 1998)
Animal and experimental data
Mouse-ear edema was inhibited 93% by a parthenolide-rich fraction of a tansy extract. Similar inhibition occurred with indomethacin (85%) and a jaceosidin-rich fraction (80%). Effects against carrageenan-induced paw edema were more modest (25% and 8% for parthenolide and jaceosidin fractions, respectively).(Schinella 1998) Inhibition of nitrous oxide production induced by lipopolysaccharide was observed with the essential oil of T. vulgare; alpha-humulene was found to be the most active compound in the oil.(Coté 2017)
Sesquiterpene lactones have a cytoprotective effect against gastric ulcers, possibly related to interactions between the α-methylene-γ-lactone group and thiol constituents in the gastric mucosa. Additionally, flavonoids isolated from tansy may have a topical effect on ulcers.(Tournier 1999)
A dose-dependent reduction in ethanol-induced gastric lesions in rats was seen with a chloroform extract of a parthenolide-rich genotype of T. vulgare. Ulcer inhibition was similar for animals given chloroform extract or parthenolide (71% and 91% ulcer inhibition, respectively, at a dose of 40 mg/kg).
Animal/In vitro data
Tansy has some degree of in vitro antimicrobial activity against both gram-positive(12, 13) and gram-negative bacteria.(13) Organisms susceptible to a hydroalcoholic extract of T. vulgare include Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Some activity against Candida krusei and C. tropicalis was also observed. In pathogens isolated from urine and vaginal secretions of 15 postmenopausal women diagnosed with recurrent UTI, T. vulgare aqueous extract was found to be most active against E. coli with an MIC of 52.08 mg/mL (P<0.05) and least active against P. aeruginosa (MIC 26.04 mg/mL) and Staphylococcus aureus (MIC 41.66 mg/mL) compared to extracts from Bidens pilosa and B. sulphurea. More than 50% of the isolates from the women were found to be multidrug resistant.(Chiavari-Frederico 2020) In vitro studies have reported the essential oil of T. vulgare to be active against S. aureus, E. coli, P. aeruginosa, and C. albicans with camphor identified as the most active constituent against S. aureus and E. coli.(Cote 2017, Radulovic 2017)
Anti HSV-1 activity of tansy aerial parts has been reported.(Alvarez 2011, Onozato 2009) Aqueous extracts of the plant partially inactivate tick-borne encephalitis virus in vitro but have been found to induce resistance to the virus in infected mice.(Fokina 1991)
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of tansy alone as an antimicrobial agent. In combination with Rosa canina, Urtica dioica, selenium, flavonoids and carotenes, tansy has been studied in people living with HIV; (the combination preparation is known as "setarud" or "IMOD").(Paydary 2012)
Oil of tansy has a strong, insect-repellent property, but the acaricidal property is affected by the method of extraction. Bioassays have associated the presence of 1,8-cineole, bornyl acetate, rho-cymene, gamma-terpinene, and camphor with the strongest repellent activity(Schearer 1984) and beta-thujone with insecticidal properties.(Chiasson 2001) Colorado potato beetles (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) were strongly repelled by a commercial oil of tansy and a steam distillate of fresh leaves and flowers of tansy.(Schearer 1984) Inhibition of the feeding activity of the cabbage aphid (Brevicoryne brassicae) by a preparation of sesquiterpene lactones isolated from T. vulgare was 80% to 100%. High activity against the flour beetle (Tenebrio molitor), greenhouse whitefly (Trialerodes vaporariorium), and Teranychus urtiae Koch was also noted.(Adekenov 1996)
The extraction process affected mortality of spider mites treated with a 4% extract of tansy. Mortality rates for extracts obtained by distillation in water or steam was 60% and 75%, respectively, compared with 16% for a microwave-assisted extraction process. LC50 values were 0.054 and 0.046 mg/cm2 for water and steam-assisted distillation processes, respectively. LC50 values for the microwave-assisted process were inconclusive. The active agent in this study was probably β-thujone, the main component in all 3 extracts (87% to 92%).(Chiasson 2001)
Vasorelaxant properties of an aqueous extract of Tanacetum have ben demonstrated in vitro.(Lahlou 2008)
The essential oil of T. vulgare aerial parts has been shown to be cytotoxic to colon adenocarcinoma cell lines and slightly cytotoxic to human lung carcinoma, human keratinocytes, as well as healthy cell lines.(Cote 2017)
An in vitro study identified 107 compounds extracted from T. vulgare by 3 different extraction methods (hexane, ethanol-water, water). Assays demonstrated significant antioxidant as well as enzyme inhibition activity against cholinesterase, tyrosinase, amylase, and glucosidase. All extracts were toxic at concentrations of 100 mcg/mL to 20 mg/mL. However, at 10 mcg/mL, 3 extracts were found to be non-toxic and biocompatible (less than 20% reduction in cell viability) to hypothalamic cells. Norepinephrine release was stimulated by all extracts and an influence on dopamine signaling was observed by one of the extracts.(Ak 2021)
Neuromodulation has been demonstrated in vivo by T. vulgare essential oil in which movement of rats as well as time spent in light/dark was significantly worse in animals treated with the essential oil compared to untreated controls. Potent anxiolytic effects were also observed.(Radulovic 2017)
There is no clinical evidence to support specific dosage of tansy. Classical use of the oil as an anthelmintic was at a dose of 0.1 g/day.
Pregnancy / Lactation
None well documented.
Ingestion of tansy and its extracts has been reported to cause serious systemic toxicity in animals and humans. Fatalities have occurred.
Prolonged exposure to tansy may cause contact dermatitis(Hausen 1988); an extract of tansy is routinely included in the standard testing mixture for Asteraceae allergy.(Hausen 1996, Paulsen 2001) A strong cross-sensitivity between chrysanthemum and tansy exists; the presence of parthenolide in both species may be a possible cause.(Paulsen 2001) Arbusculin-A and tanacetin have also been indicated as sensitizing agents.(Hendriks 1989) Prevalence of hypersensitivity to tansy has been reported as 60.6%(Hausen 1996) to 77%(Paulsen 2001) of patients sensitive to Asteraceae (approximately 2% of the European patient population tested). Patients exhibiting the symptoms of contact dermatitis may have been exposed to the plants occupationally (flower trade), in their own gardens, or through the use of natural cosmetics, soaps, or shampoos. Clinically, lesions occur most often on the face, fingers, hands, and forearms.(Esoteric Oils 2007)
As little as 10 drops of the oil may be lethal, but survival has been reported after ingestion of 15 mL.(Hendriks 1989, Osol 1955) The tea also has been fatal.(Osol 1955) Symptoms of internal tansy poisoning include rapid and feeble pulse, severe gastritis, violent spasms, convulsions, and uterine bleeding; treatment with gastric lavage or emesis has been suggested, followed by symptomatic treatment.(Hardin 1974) Alpha-thujone is probably responsible for much of the toxicity associated with the plant; however, several other minor constituents have demonstrated strong correlations to the toxic profile.(Radulovic 2017) Chronic poisoning from prolonged use is also likely.
Studies in rodents suggest a lack of toxicity from the aqueous extract of tansy (Tanacetum vulgare L.) leaves.(Lahlou 2008)
- Tanacetum parthenium
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