Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a widely used culinary herb in the sunflower (Asteraceae) family. It is closely related to wormwood and mugwort.
French tarragon is the variety most often used in cooking. A sweet and aromatic herb, French tarragon has a distinctive anise or licorice flavor.
The leaves are the only part of the plant you should use in the kitchen. Use fresh tarragon whenever possible, as the aroma and flavor of dried tarragon is usually very weak.
Tarragon is one of the four fines herbs of French cooking and is the main seasoning in Béarnaise sauce. You will often find tarragon in recipes for chicken, fish, and egg dishes.
Add it to sauces, soups, and stews for a delicious flavor boost.
You can make tarragon vinegar by steeping tarragon leaves in vinegar. Tarragon is also used in many recipes for relish, pickles, and mustard.
To baste chicken, fish or seafood, blend tarragon with butter, chives, and lemon.
Add tarragon in small amounts to recipes at the last moment to retain aroma and taste. Tarragon has a distinctive flavor that can easily dominate a dish, so adding it in small amounts will allow you to control the results.
Russian tarragon is a different variety with coarser, paler leaves. It is not commonly used in cooking as it is not as fragrant and tastes slightly bitter.1,2
Dried tarragon is available online and in grocery stores. Fresh tarragon sprigs are often available in the produce departments of grocery stores and at farmers markets. Choose fresh leaves that are richly fragrant whenever possible for better flavor and nutritional benefits. Avoid those with shriveled, discolored stems.
To grow your own:
Tarragon grows well in rich, sandy soil with adequate sunlight. Its leaves are smooth and dark green with pointed ends and should be harvested before they flower for the best flavor. French tarragon grows to 120–150 cm (47–59 in) tall, with slender branched stems and is propagated by root division.1
To store fresh tarragon, wash the leaves in clean running water, wrap the tarragon in a damp paper towel and place in a plastic bag in the produce compartment of your refrigerator. You can also place the tarragon stems upright in a jar of water. Loosely cover them with a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator. Fresh tarragon will usually keep well for about 10 to 14 days in the refrigerator.
To freeze fresh tarragon, wash, trim and chop the tarragon and allow it to dry thoroughly. Once dry, place in heavy-duty freezer bags or freeze in ice cube trays with a small amount of water, then transfer to freezer bags.
Dried tarragon should be stored inside an airtight container and placed in a cool dark place for up to six months.3,4
French tarragon is rich in phytonutrients as well as antioxidants. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, the herb is a rich source of vitamins including vitamin C, vitamin A, and the B-complex group. Tarragon is an excellent source of minerals like calcium, manganese, iron, magnesium, copper, potassium, and zinc.
Tarragon is a good source of potassium. It also contains ingredients that seem to be able to fight certain bacteria. The main essential oils in tarragon are estragole (methyl chavicol), cineol, ocimene, and phellandrene. The presence of estragole has raised concerns about the possible carcinogenic effect of this essential oil. According to Wikipedia, research indicates that there is little risk in using tarragon.
Tarragon has an aromatic property reminiscent of anise, due to the presence of estragole, a known carcinogen, and teratogen in mice. The European Union investigation revealed that the danger of estragole is minimal even at 100–1,000 times the typical consumption seen in humans. Estragole concentration in fresh tarragon leaves is about 2900 mg/kg.1
Use as a medicinal plant:
Tarragon is used to treat digestive problems, poor appetite, water retention, and toothache. It is thought to be helpful in inducing menstruation and promoting sleep.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of tarragon for these uses.
Tarragon is a small, shrubby herb, Artemisia dracunculus, in the sunflower (Asteraceae) family. French tarragon is prized for its distinctive anise or licorice flavor and is widely used in both savory and sweet dishes.
Spanish tarragon (Tagetes lucida) is sometimes used as a substitute for French tarragon. Also known as Mexican mint marigold, Mexican tarragon, Texas tarragon, or winter tarragon, it has a hint of anise reminiscent of French tarragon.
Literature / Sources:
- Wikipedia. Tarragon, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Tarragon
- Spice Advice: Spice Encyclopedia, Tarragon, accessed September 24, 2018. http://www.spiceadvice.com/ encyclopedia/Tarragon.html.
- Preserving Your Harvest: Preserving Your Tarragon Harvest, accessed September 24, 2018. http://www.preservingyourharvest.com/ Tarragon.html.
- J. Kenji López-Alt, “The Best Way to Store Fresh Herbs”, Serious Eats, accessed September 24, 2018. https://www.seriouseats.com/ 2015/04/the-best-way-to-store-fresh-herbs-parsley-cilantro-dill-basil.html.