Herb of the Month – Tarragon

recipes) or, at a pinch, you could freeze it.

Cultivation

It is well worth growing your own Tarragon because it’s not that widely sold.  French Tarragon cannot be grown from seed and instead needs to be propagated by dividing the roots.  Take care when buying your original plant to ensure that it is Artemisia dracunculus rather than A. dracunculoides.   This related plant, commonly known as Russian Tarragon, originates from Siberia and is therefore much hardier, and does seed in this climate.  However, whilst easier to grow, it is a very poor relation in terms of taste.  If the plant is described only as Tarragon it is likely to be the Russian variety, the leaves are coarser and slightly serrated, and a quick taste will reveal that the flavour is nothing like as pronounced as in French Tarragon, it is instead slightly acrid.

Having ensured that you have planted the French variety, it is best to divide the plant every couple of years to keep it healthy and at its optimum flavour wise.  To do this you need to dig up the underground runners in spring (you will see the first growth around the end of April).  Separate the roots by pulling gently apart – you will see little white growing nodules.  Place each of these in a separate pot and cover with compost.  Grow on in the greenhouse until they are well-rooted and then plant out in the summer.  Water just sufficiently to keep the soil from drying out, but avoid over-watering.

Using Tarragon

The best flavour will come from leaves harvested in early summer, before mid-day, so this is the time to make your Tarragon Vinegar.

In addition to being a classic partner for chicken, Tarragon is good with mushrooms, tomatoes and fish.  As a constituent of fines herbes it also makes many classic French sauces, such as Bearnaise for serving with steak and is ideal in many egg dishes.

Whilst there is no universally accepted definition of what makes a plant a herb, it is generally agreed that they are “useful” plants, the use having originally mainly been medicinal.  However whatever medicinal properties Tarragon was once thought to have had (curing snake bites for example) they now seem largely irrelevant, but French Tarragon is right up there in any cook’s top 10 culinary flavourings.  And whilst culturally it is far more associated with France than the UK, the ingredients it complements are widely used here, so let’s embrace the herb too!

Recipes

Tarragon Orange Chicken

Tarragon Vinegar

Sauce Béarnaise

Mushrooms marinated with Tarragon vinegar

See also recipes using Fines herbes

3 thoughts on “Herb of the Month – Tarragon

  1. A lot of misinformation.
    French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa Besser—sativa a misnomer in itself as it cannot be seeded) is not native to Southern Europe as it is a clonally propagated sterile tetraploid cultivar of uncertain origin that popped out of nowhere in medieval times. Russian or Wild Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L. and NOT dracunculoides–the origin of that taxonomic mess is a longer story) is native to the Northern hemisphere and had been used medicinally but not as an herb as it is distinctly different in its chemical constitution.
    Oh, the Internet

    1. Thank you for your comment. The beauty of the internet is that the written word can readily be challenged and that knowledge and expertise can be pooled. My herb guru is Jekka McVicar, so I will forward your comments to her to see whether she has anything to add.

    2. True French Tarragon is Artemisia dracunculus which does set flower and seed in the Mediterranean region It was found in S. Europe in 1548 .This information is readily available from the RHS Dictionary of Gardening Vol1 A-COCC. I have never heard of Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa Besser—sativa please could you elaborate. Regarding Russian Tarragon the current RHS data base on the nomenclature of plants has it now as Artemisia dracunculus Russian.
      All this material is from books.

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