Its botanical name is derived from its serpent like roots (a little dragon), after its supposed ability to cure bites of serpents and mad dogs. Tarragon was introduced to Britain in the Tudor times.
There are two forms of tarragon, the French and the Russian. In our opinion, the French is the better form. The Russian form rarely sets seed, which is not too much of a problem as the seeds are not generally used in herbals!
Cuttings of Tarragon
Mid summer is the best time to take semi-ripe cuttings of the Tarragon. It can also be divided carefully in early spring and the divisions kept watered after re-planting.
Tarragon grows to about 2ft and has branching stems and lance-shaped dark green leaves with drooping white flowers that appear in July and August. Propagate from cuttings taken in July, plant out in well-drained soil in a sunny position.
Once established, the Tarragon - as with other members of the Artemisia family - rarely need watering. As such they make for good container plants, though if it is container growing only that you are interested - rather than its herbal use, then there are many other Artemisia that are more attractive for containers - most with attractive finely cut silver foliage. If you are a 'dry garden' enthusiast, then Artemisia dracunculus - Tarragon - is a useful addition - contrasting in the autumn with the straw colours of grasses and the rusty colours of the likes of Sedum spectabilis.
There is no general requirement regarding soil type for Tarragon - in fact the poorer the soil the better so it seems!
Pests such as aphids are rarely a problem, though in hot dry summers, powdery mildew might appear.
Tarragon root has been used to cure toothache. The leaves were used to treat scurvy, as a tonic and as a diuretic. It is said to stimulate appetites – as a digestive aid. It was also once used to treat bites from snakes. there was once concern about its carcinogenic properties, but test on humans have put the risk at 'minimal' even if consumed at 1,000 times normal human consumption. Welcome new to the French Chefs in particular, who regard this herb as one of the most important.
Tarragon is one of the top culinary herbs because of its distinction of flavour. It is grown commercially in France to make tarragon vinegar, which is an important ingredient of Mayonnaise and Tartare sauce. Only the best Dijon mustards include tarragon.
Add tarragon to salads, pate, cooked meats, fish and egg dishes. Tarragon works beautifully well with chicken .Use this herb in stuffing mixtures and add to root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips. Tarragon can be dried in the winter, cut off bunches in September and string up in an airy room.
Try freezing tarragon in ice cubes and use in summer drinks. Tarragon is also used to enhance the flavour of soups and sprinkle chopped tarragon over omelettes.
Fish, Chicken and assorted egg dishes are particularly improved, but is also added to chicken soups and slightly spiced sweet cakes. There is plenty of scope for experimentation with this choice herb - once you are fully aware of its taste.