Tarragon (Artemisia dracunclus)
Tarragon is a perennial herb and despite having several varieties, French Tarragon is most commonly used in cooking.
Tarragon is strong and tangy with lingering lemon, anise and basil undertones and a sweet aftertaste.
Gently crushing tarragon leaves releases a sweet aroma with tones of liquorice and pine.
Tarragon is an essential ingredient in French cooking and forms part of the traditional béarnaise sauce and fines herbes, along with chives, parsley and chervil. Tarragon pairs wonderfully with fish, chicken, eggs, zucchini, asparagus, feta cheese, mushrooms and loves tomatoes almost as much as basil does. Tarragon can be used both fresh or dried however the flavour and aroma often disappear when dried so it’s better to preserve fresh leaves in oil or vinegar.
Tarragon marries with basil, bay leaves, chervil, chives, dill, parsley and can be used with other herbs to make a delicious green salad.
New tarragon plants are started by cuttings or root division and its best to divide the roots every couple of years to maintain the flavour intensity. It grows best in a sunny spot with rich, dry soil. It grows better in colder climates, allowing for dormant winters, however it does need protection from hard frost. Pick the slender, dark green leaves when they are between 5-12cm long.
Despite its name, tarragon is native to Siberia and western Asia and was introduced into Europe by the Arabs. It started to be used more extensively in classic French cooking during the 16th and 17th centuries. Tarragon comes from the French word ‘estragon’ which means ‘little dragon’.
Once of tarragon’s earliest uses was for treating bites of mad dogs and snakes.
Tarragon is said to be an appetite stimulant and to assist with stomach upsets, heartburn, insomnia and headaches. The Romans chewed tarragon leaves to ease toothaches and it is said that this can help with hiccups also.
Facts about Tarragon
Other varieties of tarragon include Russian tarragon and Mexican tarragon. Russian tarragon is a more hardy plant than French tarragon, is lighter in colour and has an inferior, bitter flavour. Mexican tarragon (also known as winter tarragon, Spanish tarragon or Mexican marigold) has a very similar flavour to French tarragon, with a touch more anise.
Commonly Asked Questions
When is it best to add tarragon into your cooking?
Heat reduces tarragon’s aroma but the flavour can withstand long or slow cooking so you can add tarragon whenever you want. Its best used in moderation as its strong flavour can sometimes take over a dish.