Tarragon | Artemisia Dracunculus | Asteraceae

French tarragon has a bitter-sweet, peppery, warm, herby, sharp and slightly anise like scent. It is stimulating and has a unique, delicious and piquant flavour that is indispensable to the classic cuisine of France.

Tarragon
Tarragon
Tarragon description and cultivation

The French variety is a selected form of exceptional flavour. It rarely sets seed, especially in cool climates. Although it may produce tiny, greenish, ball shaped inflorescences. Its slender, linear leaves are warmly aromatic, with a complex fragrance and taste that blends sweet anise, basil and resinous undertones. It is a hardy perennial herb with narrow green aromatic leaves and small yellowish flowers. It is cold-hardy and drought-resistant, and can grow in high summer temperatures. In warm climates it will grow all year round, but in colder regions it will die back after the first frosts. You can cover the roots with mulch before winter sets in. It is, however, very susceptible to high humidity. Avoid overhead watering and plant in free-draining soil, or in pots with ;plenty of crocks for drainage. Propagate by tip cuttings in spring and early autumn, or by root division. Harvest foliage until mid-autumn. The Russian variety regularly flowers and sets viable seeds. It often improves the flavour the longer it is grown, but seed-grown Russian plants have an earthy balsamic scent.

Which one to buy and how to grow

If you live in a cold climate it would be best to buy the Russian variety, Artemisia dracunculoides rather than Artemisia dracunculus. Russian tarragon is a taller, more straggly plant with thinner, paler leaves and a milder, less refined flavour. French tarragon will grow to 1m tall in a single season. For culinary use, the flowers should be pinched out to encourage leafy growth. Replace the plants every three to four years as the flavour gradually deteriorates.

How to use

French tarragon flavour diffuses rapidly through cooked dishes, so use it carefully. Use it fresh with fish and shellfish, turkey, chicken, game, veal and egg dishes as well as in rice. Use chopped leaves in salad dressings, fines herbes, mustard, ravigote and béchamel sauces, sauce verte and mayonnaise. You can also use it in sauces together with summer savory. Oil of tarragon is used in commercial salad dressings, beverages, confections and mustards. And you can make your own tarragon vinegar by infusing the leaves, or add them when making your own mayonnaise.

Information sourced from The Complete Book of Herbs and The Essential Aromatherapy GardenMake sure you take a look at these caveats before using an essential oil, and if possible, buy organic.
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