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(Daisy or Sunflower family)


Tanacetum L.

This genus is classified in the tribe Anthemideae. It comprises some 50–60 species of erect herbs which are to be found in northern temperate regions.

Robertson & Mitchell (1967) referred to a case of allergic contact dermatitis to an unspecified Tanacetum species.

Potentially allergenic sesquiterpene lactones have been reported from the following species:

Tanacetum chiliophyllum Sch.Bip.
Tanacetum myriophyllum Willd.
Tanacetum pseudachillea Winkler
Tanacetum santolina Winkler
Tanacetum tanacetoides Tzvelev
[syns Pyrethrum tanacetoides DC., Tanacetum meyerianum Sch.Bip.] 

Other species are considered in the monographs below.

Tanacetum balsamita L.
[syns Balsamita major Desf., Balsamita suaveolens Pers., Balsamita vulgaris Willd., Chrysanthemum balsamita Baill., Chrysanthemum majus Asch., Pyrethrum balsamita Willd., Pyrethrum majus Tzvelev, Tanacetum balsamita subsp. tanacetoides Boiss., etc.]
Alecost, Bible Leaf, Camphor Plant, Costmary, Mint Geranium, Patagonian Mint, Women's Leaf

Sonboli et al. (2012) referred to there being two subspecies of Tanacetum balsamita, " … the typical subspecies having discoid capitula and the subspecies balsamitoides having radiate ones … ". In other words, Tanacetum balsamita subsp. tanacetoides Boiss. has yellow button-shaped flowers (i.e. yellow disc florets) whilst Tanacetum balsamita var. balsamitoides P.D.Sell has white flowers with yellow centres (i.e. white ray florets + yellow disc florets). Other authorities (see Synonymic Checklists of the Vascular Plants of the World, Plants of the World Online; accessed August 2021) consider the latter to be a distinct species, namely Tanacetum balsamitoides Sch.Bip. This taxonomic confusion may be reflected in phytochemical and other studies purportedly carried out on one or other of these two varieties / subspecies.

Lucidarme et al. (2008) described a case of contact allergy to a plant identified by the patient as "women's leaf". The patient, a 65-year old male cook presented with a painful and itchy dermatitis of his left index finger, and oedema of his right eyelids. He had applied a variety of antiseptic and antibiotic preparations to a minor trauma. He had also applied on a few occasions the leaf of a medicinal herb – women's leaf – that he grew in his garden and which he had previously used to treat plantar warts. Patch testing revealed sensitivity to sesquiterpene lactone mix (3+) and to Compositae mix (3+) as well as to the leaf (3+), but not to L-carvone or D-carvone.

Samek et al. (1975, 1979) reported the isolation of eudesmanolide-type sesquiterpene lactones (erivanin, isoerivanin and dehydroisoerivanin) from the above-ground parts of this species growing in Poland. A different chemotype growing in Bulgaria yielded a further seven [potentially allergenic — see Mitchell & Dupuis (1971)] germacranolide-type sesquiterpene lactones (Todorova & Ognyanov 1989).

The plant also yields a volatile oil. Again, various chemotypes have been found, including a carvone type, a camphor type, a camphor-thujone type, and a carvone-thujone type. A total of over 200 different volatile oil constituents have been identified from the various chemotypes (Bylaitė et al. 2000, Hassanpouraghdam et al. 2008). The enantiomeric form of the carvone in Tanacetum balsamita is (R)-(−)-carvone (or L-carvone), which has a minty smell (Hüsnü Can Başer et al. 2001). L-Carvone is a known contact allergen (Paulsen et al. 1993)

Tanacetum cinerariifolium Sch.Bip.
[syns Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium Vis., Pyrethrum cinerariifolium Trevir.]

Dermatitis from this species has been described by McCord et al. (1921) and by Anon (1936) and Tonking (1936-7).

The insecticide pyrethrum is derived mainly from the flowerheads (known as Dalmatian insect powder) of this species, but also from Tanacetum coccineum Grierson. Pyrethrum, in contact with the eye, may cause transient conjunctival oedema and hyperaemia (Grant 1974). Dermatitis from pyrethrum has been reported in field workers Sequeira (1936), warehousemen, chemists, and users of pyrethrum. Workers handling pyrethrum preparations in insecticide factories are liable to develop dermatitis, which is often of an allergic nature (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962). The following literature may be cited: McCord et al. (1921), Abramowitz (1927), Chevalier (1928, 1930), Marceron (1928), Sulzberger & Weinberg (1930), Hopkins (1930), Badham (1931), Kersten & Laszlo (1931), Brunsting & Anderson (1934), Feinberg (1934), Beinhauer & Perrin (1938), Epstein (1938), Sweitzer & Rusten (1938a), Anon (1942), Wilson & Ellis-Jones (1943), Keil (1944), Martin & Brightwell (1946), Canizares & Trilla (1957), Schwartz et al. (1957), Key (1961), Zucker (1966), Mitchell (1969), Mitchell et al. (1971, 1972b), Rickett et al. (1971), Griffin (1973).

Urticaria (Epstein 1938), rhinitis, and asthma with positive dermal scratch test reactions have been reported from pyrethrum (Spratling 1893, Garratt & Bigger 1923, Ramirez 1930, Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

Alcoholic extracts of pyrethrum flowers have been found to yield sesquiterpene lactones including β-cyclopyrethrosin, chrysanolide, and chrysanin (Doskotch & El-Feraly 1969, Doskotch et al. 1971, Rickett & Tyszkiewicz 1974). The principal allergen of pyrethrum is pyrethrosin (Mitchell et al. 1972b). The insecticidal principles are the pyrethrins, which are not sesquiterpene lactones, and which have been found not to be responsible for causing dermatitis (Martin & Hester 1941, Lord & Johnson 1947). However, Cronin (1980) asserts that contact allergy to pyrethrins may also occur. They are also said to be irritating to the eyes and mucous membranes (Grant 1974). Sesamin, known for its role in sesame oil (Sesamum indicum L., fam. Pedaliaceae) dermatitis, has also been reported from the flowers of this species (Doskotch & El-Feraly 1969).

Tanacetum coccineum Grierson
[syns Chrysanthemum coccineum Willd., Chrysanthemum roseum Parsa, Pyrethrum roseum M.Bieb.]


Tanacetum coccineum Grierson subsp. carneum Grierson
[syns Chrysanthemum carneum Steud., Pyrethrum carneum M.Bieb.]

Persian insect powder is obtained from these taxa (see also Tanacetum cinerariifolium above). It was incriminated as a cause of dermatitis by McCord et al. (1921), Sweitzer & Rusten (1938a), and McCord (1962).

Tanacetum parthenifolium Sch.Bip.
[syns Pyrethrum parthenifolium Willd., Chrysanthemum praealtum Vent.]

Potentially allergenic sesquiterpene lactones have been reported from this species.

Tanacetum parthenium Sch.Bip.
[syns Chrysanthemum parthenium Bernh., Matricaria parthenium L.]

The strong sensitising properties of this species have been demonstrated in guinea pigs (Hausen & Osmundsen 1983).

Dermatitis from the plant has been reported by Maiden (1909b), Shelmire (1939b), Rook (1960), Robertson & Mitchell (1967), Tan & Mitchell (1968), O'Quinn & Isbell (1969), and Hausen & Osmundsen (1983).

An Australian woman, aged 75 years, was admitted to hospital with a severe exacerbation of a condition that had been diagnosed four years previously as photodermatitis. She reacted strongly (3+) to this species and to costus root oil derived from Saussurea costus Lipsch. She was also nickel and cobalt sensitive (Burry 1980a). A female florist, aged 40 years, developed dermatitis of the face, neck, hands, and forearms six months after starting to handle this plant under the misleading name "chamomile". Patch tests were positive to petals and leaves, to parthenolide (the principal sesquiterpene lactone of the plant), and to 10 other members of the Compositae including Chrysanthemum L., Aster L., Gaillardia Foug., Calendula L., Zinnia L., and Matricaria L. species (Hausen 1981b). A similar case of a 63 year old hobby gardener, who became contact sensitive to T. parthenium growing in his garden, was reported by Hausen & Osmundsen (1983). Concomitant sensitivity to yarrow (Achillea millefolium L.) and T. parthenium has been reported from Europe (Hausen & Osmundsen 1983, Fernandez de Corres & Corrales Torres 1978).

Roed-Petersen & Hjorth (1976) report that this species is rarely found in the Copenhagen flower market since florists are reluctant to stock it because of its sensitising properties.

European Tanacetum parthenium yields principally parthenolide; Mexican taxa have been found to contain santamarin, reynosin, chrysartemin A, and chrysartemin B (Hausen 1981b), all of which may be regarded as potential contact allergens (Mitchell & Dupuis 1971).

The leaves of the plant are taken as a popular remedy for migraine. Of 300 persons questioned, 82% reported no unpleasant side effects; the remainder experienced mouth ulcers, sore tongue, swollen lips, indigestion, and abdominal pain (Anon 1983).

Tanacetum vulgare L.
Tansy, Buttons

The plant is cultivated for use as a herbal remedy, seasoning, and for making tea. The whole plant is strongly scented and has a bitter taste. Oil of tansy has been used as a vermifuge since the Middle Ages and is toxic in overdose (Lewis & Elvin-Lewis 1977).

The fragrance raw material known as tansy oil is derived from this species by steam distillation of the whole plant. It contains principally thujone and isothujone. Tansy oil was found to be slightly irritating to rabbit skin when applied under occlusion for 24 hours. The undiluted oil was found not to be phototoxic to mice and swine. At a dilution of 4% in petrolatum, it was found to be non-irritant in man in a 48 hour closed patch test, and it failed to sensitise any of 25 human volunteers in a maximisation test (Opdyke 1976, p. 869).

Hausen (1979) reported that the plant has a moderate sensitising capacity in guinea pigs.

Greenhouse & Sulzberger (1933) reported a case of contact dermatitis from the plant. Individuals who have contact hypersensitivity to members of the Compositae frequently show positive patch test reactions to an acetone extract of this species (Robertson & Mitchell 1967, Tan & Mitchell (1968), Mitchell et al. 1970, Lonkar et al. 1974). A gardener who had dermatitis from Chrysanthemum morifolium Ramat. did not recover after discarding all his chrysanthemums. He continued to weed his flower-beds and it was found, by a housecall, that the principal weed in his garden was Tanacetum vulgare to which he was also contact sensitive (Mitchell 1970). Hausen (1979) observed positive patch test reactions to tansy and other members of the Compositae in several patients with chrysanthemum allergy (see Chrysanthemum indicum L.). Hausen & Osmundsen (1983) reported a case of a 63 year old hobby gardener who was sensitised by Tanacetum parthenium Sch.Bip. and cross-sensitive to T. vulgare.

Frain-Bell & Johnson (1979) observed positive patch test reactions to the oleoresin from this species in 7 from 45 patients with the photosensitivity dermatitis and actinic reticuloid syndrome. Thune & Solberg (1980) observed positive patch test reactions to the oleoresin of this species in four photosensitive and lichen allergic patients.

This species yields potentially allergenic sesquiterpene lactones.

Richard J. Schmidt

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