- French TarragonBotanical Name: Artemesia dracunculus
- French Tarragon
- For Good Health
- Russian Tarragon
- Tips For Growing Tarragon Indoors
- How to Grow Tarragon Indoors
- Moving Tarragon Outside
- Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Botanical Name: Artemesia dracunculus
French Tarragon is a sprawling perennial herb which originates from Europe and Central Asia. It has narrow oblong leaves that are grey – green in colour. The small green-white flowers do not produce viable seed.
French Tarragon has a warm subtle flavour with a hint of pepper and licorice. Use in salads, fish, chicken and boiled or poached eggs . Add to white wine vinegar, pickles, mustards and butter.
The French use tarragon in many sauces, such as béarnaise sauce, tartar and hollandaise sauce, it is one of the herbs in the classic French mix – fines herbes – includes equal parts of Parsley, chervil, chives and tarragon. The fresh herbs are chopped finely together and can be sprinkled over green salad, added to omelets, poached chicken or fish, mixed into a butter sauce for fish, or sprinkled over any dish as a garnish.
It prefers to grow in a sunny position and does not like wet feet. The plant is dormant in winter shooting back in spring. French tarragon will sometimes struggle in humid conditions. Propagation is by cuttings or root division as the plant does not produce viable seed.
Tarragon is a delightful herb to grow, one that has long been used as a flavoring as well as a traditional curative.
Estragon is one of the first herbs to emerge in the springtime. Photo by Lorna Kring.
With an appealing flavor reminiscent of anise and licorice, it has several wonderful culinary applications. And it makes an attractive border plant thanks to the visual appeal of its upright growth, delicate leaves, and sweet licorice-like fragrance.
From the sunflower family, true or French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is also known as estragon.
This plant is a perennial with the distinctive characteristics of the Artemisia clan – fragrant when handled, with thin, lance-shaped leaves and a hint of silver in the light green foliage that makes them distinctive in garden beds.
Photo by Lorna Kring.
There are also two other well-known varieties – Russian or false tarragon, and Mexican mint tarragon.
The Russian variety has more limited culinary uses because its flavor is generally considered to be inferior. The Mexican type actually belongs to the marigold clan, but makes an excellent substitute in areas too hot for growing the French variety.
Let’s look at their planting and growth requirements, propagation, and how to care for this essential kitchen herb.
Not too surprisingly, the French variety is a staple in French cooking, and herb combinations such as fines herbes.
It’s used extensively in egg dishes, with fish and poultry, and as a counterpoint flavor to tomatoes. It’s also a natural in vinaigrettes, flavored vinegars, vinegar shrubs, salad dressings, compound butters, for flavoring herb crusts, and in beverages.
Dip tarragon cuttings in rooting hormone before transplanting. Photo by Lorna Kring.
A. dracunculus, or “little dragon,” is native to the temperate regions of Europe and Northern Eurasia. Hardy to Zone 4B, this perennial goes into dormancy in winter but is one of the earliest herbs to send up new growth in the spring, and thrives in cool, early season temperatures.
For a steady supply of fresh leaves, estragon is very easy to grow. It requires only well-drained soil, a sunny spot, regular watering, and the occasional sip of a water-soluble fertilizer.
However, it does sag in vitality in prolonged, extreme heat, which makes the Mexican type a better growing choice for those areas with very hot summers. (More on the Mexican variety below.)
The French variety is well suited for growth in pots for the kitchen herb garden, and can also be planted directly in the ground.
Its root structure is composed of twisting, serpentine runners (hence the nickname “little dragon”) that spread readily and rapidly in the garden.
Due to its robust root spread, you may want to give it a dedicated spot of its own.
Or, you can restrict the roots by planting in a large pot and sinking the container into the ground. The ones that shrubs and small trees come in from the nursery are ideal for this.
Dappled light is perfect for transplanted cuttings. Photo by Lorna Kring.
Select a location that receives plenty of sunshine with good drainage, and prepare the planting hole.
Remove the soil in an area slightly deeper than the root ball (by just a couple of inches), and twice as wide. Amend the soil with plenty of organic material like mature compost, worm castings, or well-rotted manure, some liquid-retaining material like perlite or peat moss, and a couple of tablespoons of bone meal.
Set the root ball in place, fill in the hole, and cover the crown with the amended soil, then firm in place. Water gently to settle.
For pots, select a size two to three inches larger than the root ball. Place a layer of drainage material on the bottom, set the root ball in place, and cover with the amended soil mix mentioned above.
Clip tarragon stems to encourage new growth. Photo by Lorna Kring.
Tarragon doesn’t require a lot of fertilizer, but it will benefit from one or two applications of fish fertilizer during the growing season.
Once the summer recedes and cold weather sets in, the plant will die back and go dormant. After the leaves are gone, cut back the stems to three inches.
Reliably hardy to Zone 5, they will survive to Zone 4B if provided with a sheltered spot and a thick, dry winter mulch to protect the crown.
In late winter, cut back any remaining stems to one inch, and top-dress with organic material such as well-rotted manure or compost.
Potted plants will become root bound after a couple of years’ growth and will need to be divided and replanted – every two to three years, depending on the size of the pot.
But it’s best to re-pot earlier rather than later, as root-bound plants tend to lose a bit of flavor.
Serpentine roots of A. dracunculus. Photo by Lorna Kring.
For the French variety, propagation must come from root division or stem cuttings, as the seeds are sterile – which means they’re not viable for planting.
Root division should be performed in late winter by cutting the root ball into halves, thirds, or quarters before new growth emerges. Plant the new divisions into containers with fresh soil or directly in the ground.
Stem divisions can be taken in late spring or early summer, or once the base of the stems has toughened.
Cut the stem back to about six inches, and dip into a rooting hormone. Plant a few stems per pot in a light, sandy potting mix and place in an area where it will get regular water with early morning sun or dappled sunlight – but not direct, hot afternoon sun.
Leaves can be harvested as soon as the shoots are about six inches tall. In this young, tender stage, pinch out the top set of leaves. This will also encourage branching, resulting in a bushier plant overall.
As it grows in height, harvest by cutting the stem back to about five or six inches to force new growth, then strip the leaves from the cut stem.
In mid-June when they’ve reached a mature height, cut back all stems to a height of four to six inches for a new flush of tender growth.
Got a big harvest? You can freeze or dry any surplus.
Fresh stems can be kept in the fridge in a small glass of water, or wrapped in a damp paper towel and placed in a plastic bag or storage container.
For long-term storage, freezing offers better flavor retention than drying. Estragon can be kept in the freezer for four to six months.
Photo by Lorna Kring.
Freeze rinsed and dried stems on a cookie sheet, then transfer to a storage container and remove excess air.
Or, strip the leaves by pulling the stem from top to bottom between your thumb and forefinger, then pack in a one-inch layer into a freezer bag. Squeeze out the excess air and freeze.
To dry tarragon, hang bunched stems upside down in a cool, shady spot until completely dry. When dry, crumble the leaves into a paper bag or onto a sheet of wax paper, then transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid. Use within 30 days.
For Good Health
Tarragon has a substantial nutritional profile with minerals, vitamins A, B, and C, and flavonoids.
And because of its high concentrations of eugenol, it has long been used as an aid to help numb the pain of toothache.
Holistic applications include use as a digestive aid, and to stimulate the appetite.
Photo by Lorna Kring.
You can learn more about its nutritional values, and get some culinary ideas in this article on Foodal.com.
The Russian variety, A. dracuncoloides pursch, is very similar in shape and appearance to French tarragon. However, its use in the kitchen is limited due to its bitter taste and musty aroma – although it is used in some regions to flavor soft drinks, cider, and tobacco.
Known as “false” tarragon, it’s from the same genus and is a very vigorous grower. Unlike its French cousin, it is easily grown from seed.
Unfortunately, this leads some dodgy growers to palm off the Russian variety as true tarragon in nursery sales.
With the French variety, the leaves are glossier and less hairy. But unless you can compare the two side by side, it’s difficult to distinguish any visual differences between them.
Tips For Growing Tarragon Indoors
Growing tarragon indoors allows you easy access to the herb and gives the plant protection from cold temperatures. Tarragon is only half hardy and doesn’t perform well when exposed to winter chill. There are a few tips to learning how to grow tarragon indoors. Herbs generally like dry soil, bright light and temperatures near 70 F. (21 C.). Growing tarragon inside is easy if you just follow a few simple requirements.
How to Grow Tarragon Indoors
Tarragon is an attractive herb with slender, slightly twisted leaves. The plant is a perennial and will reward you will many seasons of flavor if you care for it well. Tarragon grows as a many stemmed bush that can get semi-woody as it ages. While most herbs thrive in full sun, tarragon seems to perform best in a lower or diffused light situation. Allow a location of at least 24 inches height for growing tarragon inside.
If your kitchen has a window facing anywhere but south, you can successfully grow
tarragon. The leaves are the useful part of the plant and are best used fresh. They add a light anise flavor to foods and are good paired with fish or chicken. Tarragon leaves also impart their flavor to vinegar and lends its flavor to sauces, dressings and marinades. Planting tarragon indoors in the kitchen herb garden is an excellent way to take advantage of this fresh herb.
Herbs need good drainage so the choice of pot is important. A clay pot that is not glazed will allow excess moisture to evaporate. The pot also needs several drainage holes and should be at least 12 to 16 inches deep. Use three parts of a good potting soil with the addition of one part sand to give the mixture good tilth and enhance draining. Add other herbs with similar requirements when planting tarragon indoors. This will give you many flavors and textures to chose from when cooking.
Give tarragon growing indoors at least six to eight hours of light. Fertilize the herb with a dilution of fish fertilizer every two weeks. Don’t overwater when growing tarragon inside. Indoor herbs should be kept on the dry side. Provide a thorough watering and then allow the plant to dry out between periods of irrigation. Provide humidity by spritzing the plant with water every couple of days.
Moving Tarragon Outside
Tarragon can get almost 2 feet in height and may require pruning or division. If you want to just move the plant outside and get a smaller one for indoors, you need to acclimate it first by moving the plant outdoors for gradually longer periods over two weeks. You can also cut the root ball of the tarragon in half and replant both halves in different locations for more plants. If the tarragon growing indoors is well cared for, it will need pruning. Prune back to a growth node or remove entire stems back to the primary stem.
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Tarragon isn’t a widely grown herb at home, but it is well worth it especially if you like French cuisine, for which it is a popular and traditional ingredient. It is particularly used to enhance the flavour of fish and chicken dishes and much prized for its aniseed-like flavour.
Tarragon is a perennial, and one plant will give you masses of leaves to pick over several years.
How to grow tarragon
Tarragon needs a sunny, warm and sheltered position to do well and produce strongly flavoured leaves.
French tarragon especially needs a well-drained soil, and grows particularly well in light, sandy soils that are low in nutrients. It hates wet conditions, and if the soil is too rich it can become straggly and more prone to dying off.
Russian tarragon isn’t so fussy, but still doesn’t like wet soil. Tarragon does better in neutral to alkaline soils; it doesn’t grow well in acidic soils.
Like mint, tarragon spreads by underground runners, but is much less vigorous than mint and unlikely to be a problem. Growing it in a pot in a sunny position will prevent it from running, as well as providing good growing conditions.
There are two types – French tarragon and Russian tarragon. French tarragon has the best, most superior flavour, whereas Russian tarragon is hardier, but has a poorer flavour and only really worth growing in climates too cold for French tarragon to thrive.
Sow Russian tarragon seeds from April to May in small pots of a good seed compost. Do not cover the seeds. Place in a propagator at a temperature of 15-20°C (60-70°F).
When seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant individually into small pots and grow them on in cooler conditions – around 10°C (50°F) – until large enough to plant outside after the risk of frost has passed, after hardening off – acclimatise them to outdoor conditions – for 7 to 10 days. Plant out at a distance of 45cm (18in) apart.
French tarragon does not set seed, and rarely flowers, so you will have to buy and plant young plants in spring.
Dig over the soil and incorporate lots of bulky organic matter, such as compost, especially if the soil is heavy clay to improve the drainage.
Place in the planting hole and adjust the planting depth so that it is planted at the same depth as it was originally growing and the top of the rootball is level with the soil surface.
Mix in more organic matter with the excavated soil and fill in the planting hole. Water in well and apply a light dressing of a granular general feed over the soil.
Tarragon plants, particularly French tarragon, are not particularly long lived. They should remain productive for at least 3 or 4 years, but will eventually need replacing.
How to care for tarragon
Plants in the ground are unlikely to need much if any watering in summer, but watering may be needed on very light, quick draining soils during prolonged dry periods.
Give plants one or two light feeds with a liquid plant food during the summer.
Remove any flowers that may appear for a constant supply of flavoursome leaves.
Plants will die down to ground level in winter. French tarragon is not completely cold hardy and may need winter protection by covering plants with a cloche, fleece or straw. If growing in containers, move to a sheltered position – even a shed or garage – when the plant has died down during the winter months.
Leaves can be harvested at any time from May until September/October whenever leaves are needed, using scissors or secateurs to cut the stems. Young leaves have a better, stronger flavour than old ones.
For winter use, you can either dry or freeze the leaves. Freezing is the best option using leaves picked in mid-summer.
You can also pick young sprigs and add them to a bottle of white wine vinegar to make tarragon vinegar.
Spring, Summer, Autumn
Chalky, Loamy, Sandy
Moist but well-drained
Up to 90cm (3ft)
Up to 1.5m (5ft)