Tansy Golden Buttons Homemade Insect Repellent — Use That Herb

Tansy Golden Buttons Homemade Insect Repellent

Tansy is a perennial herb, Tanacetum vulgare, and a member of the aster family, Asteraceae. Tansy is also called common tansy or garden tansy in order to differentiate it from similar looking plants.

Introduced from its native Europe and Asia, this herb has established itself in all parts of the United States except some of the warmest states, including Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Texas. It requires temperate climates for successful growth. Where it does grow successfully tansy has become an aggressive weed in some cases. The states of Colorado, Montana, Washington and Wyoming have listed tansy as a noxious weed.

The alternate leaves are pinnately compound with finely toothed leaflets. The leaflets are long and narrow in shape giving the leaves a fern-like appearance. Each leaf has a dozen or more leaflets that are divided almost down to the leaf stem. The leaves are quite aromatic and bruising them releases a strong camphor-citrus odor. Tansy was popular as a strewing herb back in the day.

Tansy blooms are bright yellow composite flowers that appear quite round, which explains the reason for another nickname, ‘golden buttons’. The round appearance is due to the lack of ray flowers in this daisy-like blossom. The flowers appear in loose, flat-topped clusters at the tips of hairless stems during the latter part of the summer. The entire plant gets one to three feet tall and can be found growing along fence rows, in fields and waste areas, like roadsides and railways.

Essential oil obtained from steam distillation contains camphor, borneol and thujone. Thujone is toxic if ingested in large amounts. It is a chemical that is also present in wormwood, southernwood and sage. The young leaves were once used as a seasoning substitute for sage, but only in small quantities. People have died from consuming strong teas made with tansy, so take caution and do not ingest this herb.

The strong aroma of the leaves and flowers acts as an insect repellent. Herb and vegetable gardeners use tansy as a companion plant to drive away insects that would otherwise consume the harvest. A homemade insecticide can be made by steeping a handful of dried tansy flowers in a pail of hot water. After an hour or so pour the liquid into a labeled spray bottle and place the flowers under a bush to protect it from aphids. Spray the solution on garden plants and flowers that need protection from insect pests. Be sure to wash any edible plant materials that have been sprayed before consuming them.


Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare – Weekly Weeder #43

August 5, 2013 By Laurie Neverman 4 Comments
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Today’s featured plant is Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare.

Tansy is also known as Common Tansy, Wild Tansy, Gold Leaf Tansy, Stinking Willie, Bitter Buttons, Ginger Plant, Cow Bitter, Scented Fern (for the odor), Cheese (for the flowers), Mugwort, or Golden Buttons. (source 1 and 2) This is not the same plant as Artemisia vulgaris, Common Mugwort, or Tansy Ragwort, Senecio jacobaea.

It is in the Aster family (Asteraceae), which contains many other species, including the Weekly Weeder plants Ragweed, New England Aster, Ox-eye Daisy, Pineapple Weed, Yarrow, Heath Aster and Joe Pye Weed.

Range and Identification of Tansy

Tansy is native to Europe, but is now found around the world. In North America it ranges from the arctic circle to the deep south, except for the extreme south east U.S. and Texas (see map). It is listed by several states as a noxious weed.

Tansy prefers dry ground in full sun and disturbed soils. It is commonly found along roadsides. I took some of my photos near our hotel in Duluth and others at a campground in the Upper Peninsular of Michigan.

The plant is a perennial, growing 2-4′ (60-100 cm) in height. It often forms dense clumps of growth which display bright yellow blasts of color along the roadside.

Flowers are small, yellow and button-like. They look like the center of a daisy without any white petals. The flowers are composite, i.e. made up of many tiny flower heads. The little “buttons” are about 1/2″ across, and are borne at the top of the plant in clusters of many buttons. These flower clusters are several inches across. They bloom in summer and fall.

Leaves are simple lobed and fern-like. They are attached in an alternating pattern up the length of the stem. They range from 4 – 8″ (10 – 20 cm) long with many sharp teeth. The plant stem is smooth, not prickly.

The plant has a very distinctive, pungent odor when crushed, which has led to its use as a bitter tonic and pest repellent. The roots form a dense mat of shallow runners. Once established, it’s hard to get rid of (thus the noxious weed designation), so be careful about encouraging it where it might become a nuisance.

(See Wildflowers Of Wisconsin for more identification information.)

Tansy as Wildlife Habitat

When I was taking photos of the tansy blossoms, they were gently humming with a variety of bees and other insects, including the Asian lady beetle shown at the top of the post. They are popular with nectar and pollen feeders such as bees, butterflies and wasps, but their bitter taste keeps them largely safe from foliage eaters. They will give an “off” taste to milk if consumed by cattle or goats. In its native Europe it has more insect pests that do feed on the foliage.

Tansy for Food and Medicine

Caution: Tansy should only be used internally under the supervision of a trained herbalist. High doses have been known to cause miscarriage and even death. Tansy has been used historically for both food and medicine, however, it contains the toxic substance thujone which is dangerous in large doses. Mountain Rose Herbs also states that tansy may also cause “hallucinations, spasms and convulsions”. This is not one to mess around with casually.

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The Holistic Herbal suggests the use of tansy as an effective dewormer for roundworm and threadworm. It also suggests the use of tansy as a digestive aid to ease stomach upset (as a bitter herb). At least one source states that the thujone is neutralized by cooking, but I’ve had difficulty finding other sources to corroborate this. Some people may experience sensitivity to topical use as well, but The Holistic Herbal mentions the use of a lotion made with the plant for treating scabies.

A Modern Herbal describes other historical uses, including the treatment of gout, a recipe for tansy cakes, and the use of tansy as a spice and flavoring.

As always, any medical information is for informational purposes only. Always exercise caution when using any wild plants and make sure you have positively identified the plant.

Tansy as Insect Repellant and Organic Insecticide

Historically, tansy was used for embalming, and was packed in coffins, tucked into funeral wraps and sometimes made into wreaths to adorn the dead.

Garden Stuff New Zealand lists tansy as an excellent companion plant in the garden:

Tansy is a good all-round bitter Insect repellent. It is great planted near Cabbages, Roses, Raspberries & Grapes. It concentrates Potassium in the soil, so benefits any plants nearby! Plant it for protection against Japanese Beetle, Striped Cucumber Beetle, Squash Bug, Cut Worms, Cabbage Worms, Ants, Flies, Mosquitoes & Fruit Moth. It is noticeably helpful under Peach Trees, which it assists greatly by warding off flying insects & keeping borers away.

During the American colonial period, meat was frequently rubbed with or packed in tansy leaves to repel insects and delay spoilage. Tansy was frequently worn at that time in shoes to prevent malaria and other fevers.

Tansy can be used as in companion planting, and for biological pest control in organic gardens and sustainable agriculture. It is planted alongside potatoes to repel the Colorado potato beetle, with one study finding tansy reduced the beetle population by 60 to 100%.

In England tansy is placed on window sills to repel flies; sprigs are placed in bed linen to drive away pests, and it has been used as an ant repellent.

In the 1940s, distilled tansy oil mixed with fleabane, pennyroyal and diluted alcohol was a well known mosquito repellent; collectors were paid five cents a pound for tansy in full bloom. Research has found that tansy extracts do indeed repel mosquitoes, but not as effectively as chemical pesticide products containing diethyltoluamide (i.e. DEET.) In 2008, researchers in Sweden investigated the use of tansy to repel ticks, showing a 64–72% repellency for each oil constituent.

Given that DEET has been linked to nerve damage, perhaps it’s time to give this Old School pest deterrent a fresh look.

Please Like, Pin or otherwise share this post if you would like learn more about the free and abundant resource of weeds.

Mountain Rose Herbs stocks a wonderful variety of herbs and seeds, as well as prepared teas and other herbal products . They also carry an assortment of bottles, droppers and other supplies, plus some really soft organic cotton t-shirts. They are my go-to source for items I don’t grow myself, as well as one of my longest running affiliates.


Tansy Plant Info: Tips On Growing Tansy Herbs

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a European perennial herb that was once used heavily in natural medicine. It has become naturalized in many parts of North America and is even considered a noxious weed in areas like Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, and Washington State. Despite this, tansy is a pretty little plant that adds potassium to soil while repelling several annoying insect species. Once you have tansy seeds, however, learning how to grow tansy will be the least of your problems. This plant is a prolific re-seeder and can become quite a nuisance in some gardens.

Tansy Plant Info

The herb garden was the center of the home in the Middle Ages and eras prior. Today’s tansy uses in the garden are much more limited due to modern pharmaceuticals and different tastes over the years. However, this forgotten herb provides ornamental appeal and still packs all the medicinal and culinary wallop of the past. It is up to us to rediscover the healthy, natural tricks of our ancestors and decide for ourselves if herbal lore is useful to us today or simply an attractive addition to the perennial garden.

Tansy herb plants are easy to grow and have lovely flowers and foliage. They are rhizomatous perennial members of the Daisy family and may achieve 3 to 4 feet in height. The foliage is attractive with delicate fern-like leaves; however, they smell rather strongly and are not an aromatic delight. Tiny yellow button-like blooms appear in late summer into fall.

Unlike most daisy members, the flowers lack ray petals and are instead discs of less than 3/4 of an inch in width. These are the source of the seeds, which have become a nuisance in many northwest gardens. Numerous fine seeds are produced on the numerous flower heads and readily germinate and start new plants. If any tansy plant info is taken away from this reading, it should be the importance of deadheading to prevent a rampant takeover of the plant in your garden.

How to Grow Tansy Herbs

In areas where the plants are a nuisance, growing tansy herbs may not be the best idea unless you are up for constant deadheading or can contain the plant in another manner. That being said, tansy herb plants are unfussy, reliable perennials that thrive in any area with at least 6 hours of sunlight. This makes them perfect for either full or partial sun locations.

Once established, tansy is drought tolerant and thrives in a variety of soils. In early spring, cut plants back to within a few inches of the ground to force compact growth and a clean appearance.

If growing tansy herbs from seed, plant in fall in well worked soil to allow seed to experience cold stratification.

Tansy Uses in the Garden

Tansy makes an excellent companion plant for many types of vegetables, as it contains compounds which repel certain insect pests. It has a camphor-like scent that not only sends insects running, but also has uses in killing parasites internally in both humans and animals.

Tansy adds potassium to the soil, one of the macro-nutrients all plants require for good health. Use it in kitchen herb containers to flavor stews, salads, omelets and more. It is also lovely when added amongst other herbs, both for the little flowers and the elegant feathery foliage.

In years gone by, tansy was also used as a natural textile dye. Tansy herb plants also make fine additions to everlasting bouquets, as the flower heads dry easily and hold both shape and color.


Tansy Essential Oil: 10 Benefits & Uses

Tansy essential oil comes from a perennial tree that is a member of the aster family. Its leaves are serrated and fernlike, and its flowers are flat, bright yellow, and resemble buttons. While it’s native to Europe and Asia, tansy is now grown around the world and has several medicinal uses. However, in large doses, the active constituents are toxic. Despite these warnings, tansy is used in cooking, as it adds a spicy tang to salads, much like cinnamon or nutmeg. And its medicinal uses are many, including fighting off many illness-causing bacteria, fungi, and viruses. (1) You can learn more about the benefits of this powerful oil by reading the list below.

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Here are 10 amazing benefits and uses of tansy essential oil:

1. Prevents Bacterial Infections

Potentially fatal to humans, tansy essential oil also packs a mighty wallop when faced against many bacteria. It kills them and inhibits their multiplication as well. While the dosage needs to be mild, tansy oil can be extremely effective against bacterial infections. (2)

2. Protects Against Fungal Infections

This essential oil is also harsh on fungi, destroying it and the spores as well. As such, tansy oil is effective on certain skin conditions, running ears, and hair loss caused by fungi, and dysentery. (3)

3. Reduces Inflammation

Tansy essential oil is also an effective treatment for inflammation, in particular inflammation found on the skin. Moreover, it gives some relief to respiratory, digestive, and nervous system inflammation. (4)

4. Controls Allergic Reactions

Allergies occur when histamine in your body overreacts to various triggers, i.e., allergens. This can cause rashes, itchiness, severe coughs, asthma, breathing issues, or hiccups. Tansy essential oil, however, can neutralize histamine, which can calm bothersome symptoms. (5)

5. Protects against Viral Diseases

The components like thujone and camphor are toxic to living cells and capable of killing viruses as well. These components rupture the cyst, probe inside, and kill the virus. This stops the growth of the virus and gives immunity against viral diseases like the common cold, mumps, measles, and pox. (6)

6. Reduces Fevers

Some fevers are indicative that your body is fighting an infection. If you rid of the infection, you can lower the fever. Tansy essential oil, being antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial, can help fight infections that cause fevers. Furthermore, the anti-inflammatory properties in this oil can also help reduce fevers, as inflammation can also raise body temperature. (7)

7. Deters Insects

If you have a problem with pests, try using tansy oil to rid of them. It works against cockroaches, ants, termites, moths, mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, lice, and bed bugs. It even works on lizards and mice! (8)

8. Stimulates Secretion of Hormones

Tansy essential oil can also address issues with the thyroid and thymus glands. This is because it can stimulate the endocrine glands and increase the secretion of hormones. (9)

9. Relieves Nervous Afflictions

Those who suffer from anxiety, depression, anger, convulsions, nervous afflictions, epilepsy, hysteric attacks, and impulsive behavior may find relief with the use of tansy essential oil. It acts as a sedative for the nerves and helps control emotional impulses. (10)

10. Kills Intestinal Worms

The toxic effect of tansy essential oil also works against intestinal and other parasitic worms in the human body. This includes roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, as well as others. Moreover, it can kill worms that develop into wounds. This in turn helps in the regrowth of healthy cells, as well as speeding up healing time. (11)

Exercise Caution Regarding Tansy Essential Oil:

Due to its high concentration of thujone, this product can be fatal, even in small doses. Additionally, it can trigger hallucinations and severe nervous disturbances, while having addictive, narcotic effects. (12)


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Japanese Beetles

Use these tips to get rid of Japanese beetles.


Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools

What are those iridescent green garden beetles eating your plants? Here are tips on how to identify and get rid of Japanese beetles.

What are Japanese Beetles?

Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) are small bugs that carry a big threat. They do not discriminate when it comes to what types of plants they feed on. In fact, they are classified as a pest to hundreds of different species. They are one of the major insect pests in the Eastern and Midwestern United States, causing monumental damage to crops each year.

Prior to the beetle’s accidental introduction to the United States in the early 1900s, the Japanese beetle was found only on the islands of Japan, isolated by water and kept in check by its natural predators. In 1912, a law was passed that made it illegal to import plants rooted in soil. Unfortunately, the failure to implement the law immediately allowed the Japanese beetle to arrive in this country.

Most entomologists agree that the beetles entered the country as grubs in soil on Japanese iris roots. In 1916, these coppery-winged pests were first spotted in a nursery near Riverton, New Jersey, and by 1920, eradication programs were dropped; the beetle proved to be too prolific a breeder.


How to Identify Japanese Beetles

Japanese Beetles are ½ inch in length with metallic blue-green heads, copper backs, tan wings, and small white hairs lining each side of the abdomen. Japanese beetles usually feed in small groups. They lay eggs in the soil during June, which develop into tiny white grubs with brown heads and six legs that are up to ¾ inch in length. These grubs will remain underground for about 10 months, overwintering and growing in the soil.

They emerge from the soil as adult beetles and begin feeding the following June. They usually attack plants in groups, which is why damage is so severe. Although the lifecycle of the adult Japanese beetle is barely 40 days, it can cover a lot of ground. Even if you succeed in controlling your Japanese beetle population, your neighbor’s Japanese beetles might come on over.

Photo Credit: Ohio State University. Japanese beetles cause leaves to appear skeletonized.

Japanese Beetle Damage

Japanese beetles feed on a wide variety of flowers and crops (the adult beetles attack more than 300 different kinds of plants), but they are especially common on roses, as well as beans, grapes, and raspberries.

Skeletonized Leaves and Flowers

Japanese beetles can devour most of the foliage on favored plants, as well as the flowers. Look for leaves that are “skeletonized” (i.e., only have veins remaining). This is a tell-tale sign of Japanese beetles. (Mexican Bean Beetles can also leave foliage skeletonized, though, so be sure to identify the beetle by their appearance as well.) Japanese beetles are not usually far from damaged leaves, so inspect the plant thoroughly. Also keep an eye on the ground beneath the plant; the beetles may reflexively drop off the plant if disturbed.

Unhealthy, Brown Patches in Lawn

Japanese beetle grubs damage grass when overwintering in the soil, as they feast on the roots of lawn grasses and garden plants. This can cause brown patches of dead or dying grass to form in the lawn, which will pull up easily thanks to the weakened roots.

Control and Prevention

How to Get Rid of Japanese Beetles

Good horticultural practices, including watering and fertilizing, will reduce the damage caused by these beetles, but oftentimes you simply need to get rid of them. Here are some ideas:

  • Row Covers: Protect your plants from Japanese beetles with row covers during the 6- to 8-week feeding period that begins in mid- to late May in the southern U.S. and in mid- to late June in the North. Row covers will keep the pests out, but they will keep pollinators out, too; be sure to remove them if your crops need to be pollinated.
  • Hand Pick: Unfortunately, the most effective way of getting rid of Japanese beetles is to hand pick them off of plants. It’s time consuming, but it works, especially if you are diligent. When you pick them off, put them in a solution of 1 tablespoon of liquid dishwashing detergent and water, which will cause them to drown.
  • Neem Oil: Neem oil and sprays containing potassium bicarbonate are somewhat effective, especially on roses. The adult beetles ingest a chemical in the neem oil and pass it on in their eggs, and the resulting larvae die before they become adults. Note: Neem can be harmful to fish and other aquatic life, so don’t use it near lakes, rivers, and ponds. It must be reapplied after rain.
  • Use a Dropcloth: Put down a dropcloth and, in the early morning when the beetles are most active, shake them off and dump them into a bucket of soapy water.
  • Insecticides: If you wish to spray or dust with insecticides, speak to your local cooperative extension or garden center about approved insecticides in your area.
    • Or, try this safe homemade solution: Mix 1 teaspoon of liquid dishwashing detergent with 1 cup of vegetable oil and shake well; then add it to 1 quart of water. Add 1 cup of rubbing alcohol and shake vigorously to emulsify. Pour this mixture into a spray bottle and use it at ten-day intervals on pests. Homemade sprays can run more of a risk of damaging plant leaves, so be careful.
    • Apply sprays in the morning, never in full sun or at temperatures above 90ºF. If your plants start to wilt, rinse the leaves immediately with clean water.
  • Traps: Japanese beetle traps can be helpful in controlling large numbers of beetles, but they also might attract beetles from beyond your yard. Eugenol and geraniol, aromatic chemicals extracted from plants, are attractive to adult Japanese beetles as well as to other insects. Unfortunately, the traps do not effectively suppress adults and might even result in a higher localized population. If you want to try them, be sure to place traps far away from target plants so that the beetles do not land on your favored flowers and crops on their way to the traps.
    • Fruit Cocktail Trap: You can buy Japanese beetle traps of all sorts, but most are no more effective than a can of fruit cocktail. Open the can and let it sit in the sun for a week to ferment. Then place it on top of bricks or wood blocks in a light-colored pail, and fill the pail with water to just below the top of the can. Place the pail about 25 feet from the plants you want to protect. The beetles will head for the sweet bait, fall into the water, and drown. If rain dilutes the bait, start over.
  • Geraniums: Japanese beetles are attracted to geraniums. They eat the blossoms, promptly get dizzy from the natural chemicals in the geranium, fall down, and permit you to dispose of them conveniently with a dustpan and brush. Plant geraniums close to more valuable plants which you wish to save from the ravages of Japanese beetles.
  • Japanese Beetles on Roses? Note that insecticides will not fully protect roses, which unfold too fast and are especially attractive to beetles. When beetles are most abundant on roses, nip the buds and spray the bushes to protect the leaves. When the beetles become scarce, let the bushes bloom again. Timeliness and thoroughness of application are very important. Begin treatment as soon as beetles appear, before damage is done.

For rose growers, see our Growing Guide for Roses for more tips on caring for roses!

Photo Credit: Jeff Hahn, University of Minnesota. Sometimes the easiest way to get rid of Japanese beetles is to pick them off the plants before they do too much damage.

How to Prevent Japanese Beetles

Unfortunately, there is no magic potion to get rid of this pest. For general preventive maintenance, experts recommend keeping your landscape healthy. Remove diseased and poorly nourished trees as well as any prematurely ripening or diseased fruits, which can attract Japanese beetles. Try these tips:

  • Choose the Right Plants: Select plants that Japanese beetles will not be attracted to. See our list of the Best and Worst Plants for Japanese Beetles. Dispersing their favorite plants throughout the landscape, rather than grouping them together, can also help.
  • Get Rid of Grubs: In the grub stage of late spring and fall (beetles have two life cycles per season), spray the lawn with 2 tablespoons of liquid dishwashing soap diluted in 1 gallon of water per 1,000 square feet. The grubs will surface and the birds will love you. Spray once each week until no more grubs surface.
  • Milky Spore: You can introduce the fungal disease milky spore into your lawn to control the Japanese beetle larvae population. The grubs ingest the spores as they feed in the soil. The spore count must be up for two to three years for this method to be effective. Fortunately, the spores remain viable in the soil for years. This is an expensive treatment, as all the soil within five-eights of a mile needs to be treated for good control.
  • Beneficial Nematodes: You can also drench sod with parasitic nematodes to control the larvae. The nematodes must be applied when the grubs are small and if the lawn is irrigated before and after application. Preparations containing the Heterorhabditis species seem to be most effective.
  • Plant Strategically:Companion planting can be a useful strategy in preventing pests. Try planting garlic, rue, or tansy near your affected plants to deter Japanese beetles.
  • Parasitic Wasps: You can also attract native species of parasitic wasps (Tiphia vernalis or T. popilliavora) and flies to your garden, as they are predators of the beetles and can be beneficial insects. They will probably attack the larvae, but they are not very effective in reducing the overall beetle population.

NOTE : Many dusts or sprays are highly toxic to honeybees, native bees, and other pollinators. If application of these materials to plants is necessary during the bloom period, do not apply during hours when bees are visiting the flowers (late morning through mid-day). If more than just a few yard and garden plantings are to be treated, you may need to contact nearby beekeepers in advance so that they can protect their colonies.


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