Scientific Name: Artemisia dracunculus
The popular French Tarragon is a small, low-growing plant with many branched stems and smooth, narrow, dark green leaves, with a subtle peppery-sweet, liquorice-like aroma.
This half-hardy perennial is sterile, and bears tiny green flowers that do not produce seeds, therefore you cannot grow French Tarragon from seed — if you are sold seeds of "French Tarragon" you can be sure that they will be Russian Tarragon.
French Tarragon needs well-drained soil, and will also grow well in pots and containers. It needs to be lifted, divided and replanted every third year.
French Tarragon dies back in winter.
French Tarragon is native to Europe, southern Russia and western Asia. The word “dracunculus” means "little dragon" — it was believed it would cure the bites of all venomous creatures!
French Tarragon was a favorite of the maharajahs of India – they took it as a tisane (tea) and in Persia they used it to improve the appetite.
Harvesting and parts used
French Tarragon leaves can be picked any time but the main crop must be harvested in late summer. Do not cut off more than two-thirds of the branches to allow re-growth — unless it is the end of summer. To preserve French Tarragon, the leaves can be frozen, or dried quickly in a low oven. French Tarragon is popularly preserved by infusing it in either olive oil or vinegar.
French Tarragon is highly sought after culinary herb in Haute Cuisine cookery. It has a highly sought after fine, subtle flavour. It is one of the ingredients of "fines herbes" with chervil and parsley. It is an essential herb in the classic Sauce Tartare.
It is used fresh or dried in condiments, relishes, & prepared mustards. It is used freshly shredded in avocado fillings, in mayonnaise for fish dishes, in salad dressings and light soups. Tomato, rice, & mushroom dishes are enhanced with French Tarragon. Omelets, scrambled eggs, and chicken stuffing will benefit from a little French Tarragon. Add French Tarragon to herb butter for vegetables, steaks, chops and grilled fish. Fresh leaves, finely chopped, improve the taste of green vegetable dishes, especially green beans.
French Tarragon leaves are rich in iodine, mineral salts and vitamins A and E. It stimulates the digestive system and helps indigestion, flatulence and colic.
French Tarragon is a mild diuretic and also has febrifugal and anthelmintic properties. French Tarragon is a mild sedative that will aid sleep.
It has mild menstrual-inducing properties and can be taken if periods are delayed.
There is another variety of Tarragon, namely "Russian" Tarragon — Artemisia dracunculoides — This is a perennial herb with smooth, long, narrow pale green leaves, erect stems up to 1,2m tall. It bears small yellow-green, inconspicuous flowers which produce seed. The flavour of Russian Tarragon is no where as pleasant as French Tarragon.
It is a hardy, scraggly plant and grows well in both cold and very hot climates. In my experience, Russian Tarragon can get invasive after a year or two — therefore it needs to be cut back hard during the growing season. It does well if planted in a wide necked plant pot.