Tarragon: A Sweet Herb with an Abundance of Benefits and Uses

Tarragon is not as popular as other herbs, but it is a good idea to have it in the garden as it has many uses. It has a sweet flavor that is like anise, which makes it ideal for culinary applications. It also has an abundance of benefits for the health, which explains why its use is popular for many years.

If you are thinking of planting tarragon, we’ll help you in this guide. We’ll provide you with insights on how to plant, harvest, and maintain this herb. We’ll also share with you some of the best health benefits, as well as its applications in the kitchen and beyond.

Background and History

TarragonA perennial Eurasian herb, which is a native of western Asia and Russia. Currently, France is the biggest producer of this herb in the world. Its leaves are narrow and glossy, which are tasty even when they are raw. This low shrub has the Latin name Dracunculus, which translates to little dragon. This is about the physical appearance of the roots of the plant, which look like the tail of a dragon.

This herb is from the family of Artemisia, which got its name from the Greek goddess of the moon, Artemis. According to legends, she gave tarragon to a centaur who goes by the name Chiron.

While many other herbs are already around for thousands of years, it is a different case with tarragon. It has been around only for about 600 years, making it relatively new as against the others. In the 10th century, this herb found its way in Italy, which is a result of the invasion of the Mongols. During such time, popular uses of tarragon include inducing sleep and freshening breath. Meanwhile, its first appearance in France was in the 14th century, during the visit of St. Catherine to Pope Clement VI. It was only in the 19th century when tarragon came to the United States.

Through history, although not as extensive as the other herbs, tarragon has an abundance of applications not only for alternative medicine but also for cooking. For instance, there are stories about how tarragon is useful in drawing venom from snake bites. Traditionally, other medical applications include the treatment of hiccups, arthritis, nausea, and indigestion, among others. It was also a favorite flavoring for oils and vinegar, as well as a seasoning for meat.

Different Types

The diversity of tarragon, like other plants, can be overwhelming for some people. It can lead to confusion, especially for beginners in gardening. Before you plant this herb, it is important that you know its different types, including their physical characteristics, and most importantly, their flavor and aroma.

With grey-green aromatic leaf, this is what most people prefer when it comes to tarragon for cooking. Known as a chef’s best friend, the distinct aroma of this herb makes it a common ingredient in French cuisine. Its flavor is very much similar to anise. The plant grows to a maximum height of 36 inches while the spread is usually up to 15 inches. Its green leaves are narrow, which are typically 2 inches in length. The flowers, meanwhile, are tiny and pale green.

French Tarragon

The plant is more vigorous as against French tarragon. However, it is not as popular for culinary applications because it tends to lose most of its flavor upon reaching maturity. It has lance-shaped stems and an aromatic foliage. The maximum height usually reaches up to five feet. During the medieval times, it was more popular as a medicinal herb more than a kitchen staple.

Russian Tarragon

Also called Mexican marigold, this plant is similar to the flavor of French tarragon but is more drought-tolerant. This makes it an excellent herb to plant if you are from a place with a hot climate. Its leaves are narrow and bright green. The flowers, meanwhile, are golden yellow. The color provides the perfect contrast, making it a great decorative plant for your garden landscape. The flowers are edible and great as toppings for salads. The leaves, on the other hand, are fragrant and sweet, also similar to anise.

Mexican Tarragon

Health Benefits of Tarragon

Until today, even with the advancements in the field of modern medicine, tarragon remains to be popular for its numerous health benefits, including those that we will briefly discuss below:

  • Appetite Stimulant: If you suffer from appetite loss, consuming tarragon is a good idea to increase your food intake. Several studies in the past prove the ability of the herb to increase the appetite, especially for people who are ill or aging.
  • Digestion: Those who are suffering from a variety of digestive problems will also benefit from tarragon. As a digestive tonic, it is instrumental in bile production. It provides immediate relief to digestive problems, such as dyspepsia and upset stomach. In the olden times, it was also famous for getting rid of intestinal worms.
  • Sleep: Although there is a lack of scientific evidence to support this claim, many herbalists believe that tarragon can help to ease the nervous system, and hence, making it easier for you to fall asleep. One teaspoon of dry leaves mixed with hot water will make an excellent tea before bedtime.
  • Toothache: This is another ancient use of tarragon. For the Greeks, they simply chew fresh tarragon leaves to the numb pain they feel in the mouth. It also aids in the reduction of sore gums. The compounds responsible for this benefit are the same ones you can find in clove.
  • Anti-Bacterial: Tarragon also has the reputation of an excellent antibacterial herb. Among others, it fights Staphylococcus aureus. The bacteria can cause multiple diseases, such as such as boils and cellulitis. The essential oils of tarragon can effectively ward off the bacteria to prevent infections. This also explains why it is a choice as a natural preservative in cheese.
  • Diabetes: This is an effective herbal treatment for those who have Type II diabetes. This is basically because of the anti-high blood sugar activity of this herb. It is also able to enhance the insulin sensitivity of the body.
  • Dementia: There are also several researches proving how tarragon is an effective way to boost the health of the brain, and hence, avoiding problems like dementia. One study from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center proves that it can prevent the slowing of nerve conduction, although rats were the subject of such research.
  • Anti-Oxidant: Tarragon is also rich in anti-oxidant compounds, which are helpful in the prevention of cellular damage by free radicals. With this, it will help to keep the skin at its best, even if you are aging. This is also the one responsible for benefits for cardiovascular health.

Culinary Applications and Other Uses

More than just the nutritional contents of this herb, it is also fragrant and aromatic, making it ideal for a variety of culinary uses. The following are some of the best ways to use tarragon at home:

  • Bouquet Garni: In case you do not know, bouquet garni simply refers to a bunch of herbs in a cheeseball cloth, usually added to soups, stocks, casseroles, and sauces, among others. Aside from tarragon, you can also use marjoram, thyme, rosemary, and sage, which will result to a distinct aroma.
  • Vinegar: Since the ancient times, tarragon has been popular as the main ingredient in making flavorful vinegar. All you have to do is to choose a high-quality vinegar, add a few sprigs of tarragon, and close the bottle. Keep it for at least one month and strain the vinegar to take out the leaves. One of the most popular ways to use this vinegar is as a dressing for salads.
  • Sauces: This is a perfect complement if you are preparing grilled specialties. To make a tasty sauce, combine fresh tarragon, butter, white pepper, salt, and chicken broth. Simmer it for about half an hour. Take out about a cup and strain. Add egg yolk, cream, and stir. Your soup is now ready for you to enjoy!
  • Seasoning: Whether it is for meat or even for corn, you can also use tarragon for adding a distinct flavor and aroma. Coating the chicken with butter and tarragon before grilling will make it tastier. Boiling sweet corn with tarragon will make it taste more flavorful.
  • Spread: Avoid boring sandwiches by making your own delicious spread. A combination of tarragon, feta cheese, chives, salt, and red pepper will do the trick. Simply blend all the ingredients using a food processor and in an instant, you will have a scrumptious spread.
  • Salads: Tarragon is not as decorative as other herbs, but it exudes an impressive aroma and flavor to make the salad more exciting for your taste buds. It has tender leaves that will make it a great addition to salad greens.

How to Grow at Home

With the numerous uses of tarragon, it is a good idea to have this in your herb garden. Luckily, planting it at home does not require too much effort on your end. You do not need to have technical knowledge or extensive experience in gardening.

How to Cultivate

Planting tarragon can be done through its seeds. During the first few weeks and months, the plant will grow indoors, especially if you have a window that allows the heat of the sun to get through. The best time to plant is in April, or depending on where you live, do this at least after the last frost. In one pot, plant at least four seeds. Once it grows, thin the plant and transfer it outdoors.

Once the plant is mature enough, outdoors is the best place for its growth. See to it that it will receive full sun for the plant to thrive. The soil, on the other hand, should be moist and must have proper drainage so that water will not accumulate on the surface, if the plants are in a pot.

Planting Tarragon

The Soil Should be Moist and Must Have Proper Drainage

Differences are depending on the particular variety of the herb that you have. With French tarragon, you need to find a whole plant as growing it through seeds can be frustrating because of minimal success. For Russian tarragon, meanwhile, there is no problem in growing them through seeds.

How to Harvest

Harvesting tarragon is possible at any given time, but as gardening experts suggest, it is best to do it in the late summer. This is the time wherein the plant reaches the peak aroma and flavor. Take out the light green leaves from the top of the plant. When harvesting, remove only about 1/3 of the plant. If you harvest more, this will encourage the death of the plant.

If you do not use the leaves in their fresh form, there are several ways to store and preserve them. One of the best is through drying. Tie the leaves to form bundles and hang in a cool place. See to it that there is enough air circulation. Do not expose the leaves to the direct heat of the sun. For long-term storage, on the other hand, try freezing the leaves. Keep it in a freezer bag with an airtight seal before freezing to retain its flavor and aroma.

How to Maintain

Watering is one thing that is important, but make sure to do sparingly. Water often during the summer season to prevent the plant from drying. Before watering, see to it that the soil is already dry. Proper drainage is also necessary. The presence of too much water on the surface makes the plant prone to root rot.

Pruning is also required. As much as possible, do not make the plant grow more than two feet to prevent falling. When pruning, however, avoid overdoing it. Also, it is best to divide the plants within three to four years to give them more space.

Conclusion

Tarragon is a low maintenance herb that makes a perfect addition to your garden plants at home. Even for beginners in gardening, it is easy to grow. The best thing is that you can use it in more ways than one. It has a distinct flavor and aroma, making it excellent for culinary applications. It also has a wealth of vitamins and minerals, allowing it to provide a wide array of health benefits.

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