French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
About This Herb
French tarragon is a hardy perennial herb that originated in Russia, but is an essential ingredient in French cuisine. This fragrant culinary herb grows as a branching plant with many narrow leaves. The leaves are slightly sweet with an anise or licorice-like taste. When buying tarragon plants, be sure to purchase French tarragon and not Russian tarragon. The Russian tarragon (Artemisia drancuculoides) is bitter and has little flavor in cooking.
How to Grow Tarragon
In our region, tarragon can be a perennial in the herb garden, vegetable bed or even the ornamental garden. It can grow to 2-3 feet tall and spread about 2 feet wide. In unprotected areas, use mulch to help plants handle cold weather. Tarragon grows in containers that can be brought inside to use during winter.
Locate a sunny to partial shady spot in the garden and amend the soil so it’s light and well-drained. As an alternative, prepare patio containers with a quick-draining soil and mix in a granular slow-release plant fertilizer. Make sure the container has enough drainage holes to keep plant roots healthy.
French tarragon is grown from transplants. If planting several plants, space plants at least 3 feet apart or one plant per container.
Keep soil moist, but don’t overwater or the plant will suffer and the leaves will lose their flavor. Fertilize once or twice during the season to encourage new growth.
For the best flavor, trim plants to keep them from flowering and going to seed.
Once established in the garden, plants will need to be pruned back to a few inches above the ground in early spring and perhaps again in summer.
Clip and use tarragon leaves while they’re young and tender, and before flower heads form. Use leaves fresh and clip stems to hang and dry. Strip dried leaves from their stems and store in airtight containers.
How to use Tarragon in the Kitchen
In addition to flavoring French cooking, tarragon flavors many other dishes. Use fresh to top green salads or add zing to potato salads. French tarragon is a delicious ingredient in flavored vinegars, homemade mayonnaise and mustard, used in poaching fish and roasting chicken. Mix together with the other traditional fines herbes used in French cuisine for omelets and soups.
Companion Plants for Tarragon
Plant tarragon with its fines herbes companions:
- Sweet marjoram
Materials for Tarragon Success
- High-quality compost
- Quick-draining potting soil and containers
- Granular slow-release fertilizer
- Water soluble or general purpose fertilizer
- French tarragon plants