Tarragon: kitchen herb profile
Tarragon is one of the most popular kitchen herbs and is especially common in French and Italian dishes. But this herb is not only used as a seasoning, it is also said to have medicinal benefits.
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a staple in every herb garden. This herb is great for adding flavour to fish, meat and cheese dishes as well as sauces. This introduction to tarragon will get you started, and you can learn in more detail about the right planting location, variety selection, propagation, care, harvesting and storage of tarragon in linked articles.
Tarragon: origin and properties
Tarragon is also known as estragon or biting dragon. It belongs to the daisy family (Asteraceae) and is in the genus Artemisia. Other traditional herbs in this genus are: common mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum).
When grown in beds and under favourable conditions, tarragon can reach a height of up to 150 cm in just one year. The varieties come from different origins and climates. Because of this, they have different properties. The herb is native to the colder regions of Central Asia and Siberia. Commercially available dried or fresh tarragon is mostly cultivated in the Netherlands or in the Balkans. The estragon herb, which is characterised by a fine aniseed note, is particularly popular in Italian and French cuisine. There are two main types of tarragon – French tarragon and Russian tarragon.
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Tarragon leaves and flowers
Tarragon plants are bushy and have strongly branched roots that can form runners. The narrow, slightly hairy, lanceolate leaves are green, pointed and sit sessile along the stems. When crushed, tarragon leaves give off a pleasant fragrance. The plant’s leaves are most aromatic in the period before flowering. From May to June, the characteristic flower buds appear in a yellow-green hue. The flower buds are about two to three millimetres in size and grow on panicles. Tarragon flowers, however, are rarely seen in areas with a cooler climate.
Tip: As the most aromatic of the varieties, French tarragon is the most commonly used. However, the French tarragon plant is also rather sensitive and small. Russian tarragon has less aroma, but it is more robust and fares better in places with cooler climates.
Is tarragon perennial?
Tarragon is a perennial plant. All varieties can tolerate some frost, although French tarragon only tolerates frost to a limited extent. Besides being easy to overwinter, propagation is also rather straightforward.
In cooking, mostly the leaves and young branches of the estragon plant are used. Tarragon also contains the controversial ingredient estragole. However, several studies have shown that large quantities would need to be consumed for the estragole to be detectably harmful. That is to say, the typical amount enjoyed in a meal is harmless. Nevertheless, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid herbs containing estragole as much as possible.
For animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs and dogs, tarragon is said to stimulate appetite and aid in digestion and have a worming effect. Of course, you should find out ahead of time how much the animals are allowed to eat.
Are tarragon flowers edible? The flowers are edible, but they are rarely used for culinary purposes. However, the dried flower buds can be brewed to make tarragon tea, which is said to stimulate the appetite and aid digestion.
If you would like to grow this herb in your own garden, discover in detail how to plant tarragon here.