Growing Tarragon In The Herb Garden

While it’s not particularly attractive, tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a hardy herb commonly grown for its aromatic leaves and peppery-like flavor, which is used for flavoring many dishes and is especially popular for flavoring vinegar.

Although tarragon is best grown from seedlings, cuttings or divisions, some varieties can be propagated from seeds. Growing tarragon can add a sophisticated herb to your garden.

Tarragon Seeds

Tarragon seeds should be started indoors around April or before your area’s last expected frost. It’s usually easier to sow about four to six seeds per pot using moist, composted potting soil. Cover the seeds lightly and keep them in low light at room temperature. Once seedlings begin to sprout or reach a couple inches tall, they can be thinned down to one plant per pot, preferably the healthiest or strongest looking.

Growing Tarragon Herb

Seedlings can be transplanted outdoors once temperatures have significantly warmed. Tarragon herb plants should be grown in areas receiving full sun. Space tarragon plants approximately 18 to 24 inches apart to ensure adequate air circulation as well. They should also be located in well-drained, fertile soil.

However, these hardy plants will tolerate and even thrive in areas having poor, dry or sandy soil. Tarragon has a vigorous root system, making it quite tolerant of arid conditions. Established plants do not require frequent watering, outside of extreme drought. Applying a generous layer of mulch in fall will help the plants throughout winter too. Tarragon can also be grown year round indoors as houseplants or in the greenhouse.

French Tarragon Plants

French tarragon plants can be grown the same as other tarragon varieties. What sets these plants apart from other tarragon plants is the fact that French tarragon cannot be grown from seeds. Instead, when growing tarragon of this variety, which is prized for its superior anise-like flavor, it must be propagated by cuttings or division only.

Harvesting and Storing Tarragon Herb Plants

You can harvest both the leaves and flowers of tarragon herb plants. Harvesting usually takes place in late summer. While best used fresh, tarragon plants can be frozen or dried until ready for use. Plants should be divided every three to five years as well.

Quick Guide to Growing Tarragon

  • Plant tarragon in spring after the last frost. This flavorful plant grows well in both in-ground gardens and containers.
  • Space tarragon plants 18 to 24 inches apart in partial shade to full sun with fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0.
  • Before planting, get your soil right by mixing in several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter.
  • Encourage excellent growth by regularly feeding with a water-soluble plant food.
  • Even though tarragon is drought-tolerant, check soil moisture every few days and water when the top inch of soil becomes dry.
  • Once your plants are established, harvest sprigs once they are large enough for use.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Although grown as an annual in most of the country, Mexican tarragon is a half-hardy perennial in warmer regions, where it comes back vigorously from the roots in spring. In climates where it never dies down from frost, keep it trimmed.

Start with strong young tarragon plants from Bonnie Plants®, the company that has been helping home gardeners succeed for over a century. When planting, space plants 18 to 24 inches apart so they will have room to grow to their full size.

Plants need full sun or partial shade and must have well-drained soil. Given that, they grow easily and without fuss. Improve the nutrition and texture of your existing soil by mixing a few inches of aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil in with the top layer. Growing tarragon in pots? Fill them with Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix, which also contains nutrient-rich compost.

Although drought-tolerant, tarragon will be fuller and bloom best if kept moist, so water thoroughly whenever the top inch of soil is dry. In tandem with planting in great soil, be sure to feed tarragon regularly for best growth. Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition is an excellent choice, as it feeds both your plants and the beneficial microbes in the soil that help your garden flourish. (Be sure to follow label directions.) It’s worth noting that if stems fall over and touch the ground, they will take root, causing plants to spread. Tarragon also reseeds.

UPDATE: Is there a tarragon lookalike OR can tarragon be flavorless?

I grew some tarragon this year, but didn’t have the opportunity to use it until a couple weeks ago. However during harvest I didn’t get the licorice smell, so I crushed it and still no smell. I chewed a tiny bit of it between my front teeth and spit it out, but it tasted like plain green leaf, like grass.

Did I get a tasteless lookalike or did I somehow not give it what it needs to have any flavor?

When I say tasteless, I mean there was no way to tell at all that this wasn’t just a tasteless weed.

For all other intents and purposes though, it sure looked just like the tarragon I used to grow years ago. Maybe I’ll take a picture tonight and add it to the question.

New update 3/30/2016:

Ok so after last fall’s discussion and this being a new spring, I did my research and made sure that I would get French tarragon for my herb gardens this spring. I was looking for sources for plants but all the nurseries are saying not for several more weeks. I am thinking to myself why? It is supposed to be a cool weather plant, but ok. So I go to Home Depot, by some root hormone and off the the grocery store where I can buy fresh sprigs of tarragon. I buy to boxes giving me about 20 sprigs to play with as cuttings. I put them in a bucket of water to make sure they can get rehydrated after being in a plastic tube for too long…the next day they look chipper. I get to cutting them up and defoliating the stems and I thought, I’ll try one of these leaves and feel good about that nice anise flavor.

No taste, again. Ok maybe a touch of taste, but not at all what I remember and this time from a sprigs sold as French tarragon in the produce section of the grocer for use in food. Listen I am not looking for an herb that’s as strong as licorice candy, that’s not the problem, the problem is I can barely tell if these leaves have any anise taste at all to them. I even balled up several leaves and chewed them up…nothing.

So now I am getting frustrated. And I am looking all over the web trying to find some hint of why, and I run into something I hadn’t expected.

In this question and the comments to answers, I mention tiny yellow flowers. Well when I found pictures of Russian tarragon flowers, well they didn’t look all that tiny, and to be quite honest they didn’t look anything like the flowers I remembered. So I looked at some more tarragon flower pictures until I found what I had…it looks like what I had been growing all those years ago, may have been Mexican tarragon which is actually a variety of marigold. That explains why I was able to grow nice flavorful tarragon from natural reseeding. It also explains why I was able to grow it all year long even in the Florida summer. It is considered and acceptable substitute, but that really leaves me wondering. That tarragon was very strong licorice flavored, and none of these artemisia tarragons seem to have any flavor at all.

Am I missing something here? Should I really be looking for Mexican tarragon for the real tarragon flavor? That kinda throws me for a purist loop.

Update 3/20/2019 — Haha, I forgot about this question. So as it turns out, I helped Stop And Shop discover they were getting russion tarragon delivered as french tarragon. Once that was solved and they got a new shippment in, I was able to produce the cuttings I mentioned above. They’ve lived in pots the last two years and were put in the ground next to my foundation on the south facing side of the house this past fall. I am hoping they made it through the winter so I am not rooting out cuttings from the grocery store again.

Why Grow It?

French beans are a little trickier to grow than runner beans, but they are arguably more tasty. There is huge variety available – green, purple, flecked, cream – and they are quite versatile. Immature french bean pods are excellent to eat whole, while the beans inside larger pods (often called haricot beans) are also very tasty. Climbing french beans make a very attractive addition to the summer veggie patch.

Sowing

There are two types of french bean – climbing and dwarf. Dwarf beans grow just 45cm tall and are surprisingly prolific for a small plant. Climbing french beans grow up to 6-8ft tall and produce a lot more beans in the same footprint (important if you don’t have much space – you get more bang for your buck). Seeds can be sown direct in the soil or in module trays ready for transplanting – we find the module tray approach better as slugs always seem to get the tiny seedlings when we sow them direct! There’s no point in sowing too early as they will be ready to transplant when the weather outside is too cold for them. Sow two seeds per pot 5cm deep in late April or early May. Sow again in July for a late summer crop.

Growing

Plant out when the seedlings are 8-10cm tall following a period of hardening off. Add some well-rotted compost to the holes as you plant out. A bamboo wigwam or double row of canes is the best support structure – we sometimes put runner and french beans in to the same wigwam row. Put three or four beans at the base of each bamboo leaving 30cm between the canes. Plant dwarf varieties in blocks so that they provide each other with shelter and support – leave about 15cm between plants. Hoe around the plants regularly to suppress weeds. Water regularly in dry weather particularly when the flowers start to form. Mulch around the plants if it’s very dry.

It takes 2-3 months for the French bean to produce its first harvest. Harvest from June to October. Start harvesting when the pods are about 10cm long. The more you pick, the more it will churn out. A plant will continue to pod for nearly two months if you keep picking – so keep doing so, even if you are fed up to the back teeth with beans (freeze them, you won’t be so fed up of them in mid winter!). A neat trick is to apply a liquid feed (e.g. comfrey tea) when the plant has finished harvesting to promote a second crop.

Recommended Varieties

  • Cobra (climbing) — Cobra produces a huge yield of delicious stringless beans over a long period. This variety is very hard to match. It is suitable for indoor cropping as well as outdoors in sheltered gardens. BUY FROM OUR SHOP
  • Purple Teepee (dwarf) — My favourite Dwarf French Bean variety. You really can’t miss the beans as they are produced above the leaves and are a lovely purple colour. But don’t worry – they turn green when cooked. BUY FROM OUR SHOP
  • Safari (dwarf)

Problems

French beans are susceptible to late frosts – cover young plants with fleece if frost is forecast. Slugs are a problem for seedlings – seems they absolutely love them. Bean seed fly can be an issue – these are soil living grubs that damage seeds and seedlings.

GIY Tips

  1. Pick a sunny and sheltered site to grow your beans in.
  2. Haricot beans are obtained by leaving the pods on the plant until they turn yellow – hang the plants indoors to dry and when the pods are brittle, remove the beans and dry them on a shallow tray for several days. Store in an airtight container.

French beans are a little trickier to grow than runner beans, but they are arguably tastier too. There is huge variety available – green, purple, flecked, cream – and they are quite versatile. Immature French bean pods are excellent to eat whole, while the beans inside larger pods (often called haricot beans) are also very tasty.
Sowing
There are two types of French bean – climbing and dwarf. Dwarf beans grow just 45cm tall and are surprisingly prolific for such a small plant. Climbing French beans grow up to 1.8-2.4m tall and produce a lot more beans in the same footprint.

Seeds can be sown directly in the soil or in module trays ready for transplanting. There’s no point in sowing too early as they will be ready to transplant when the weather outside is too cold for them. Sow two seeds per pot, 5cm deep, in late April or early May. Sow again in July for a late summer crop.

Watch Grow, Cook, Eat every Wednesday on RTÉ One at 8:30pm.

Growing
Plant out when the plants are 8-10cm tall following a period of hardening off. Add some well-rotted compost to the holes as you plant out. Like runner beans, a bamboo wigwam or double row of canes are the best support structure. Put three or four plants at the base of each bamboo, leaving 30cm between the canes.

Plant dwarf varieties in blocks so that they provide each other with shelter and support – leave about 15cm between plants. Hoe around the plants regularly to remove weeds. Water regularly in dry weather, particularly when the flowers start to form. Mulch around the plants if it’s very dry.

Harvesting
It takes 2-3 months for the French bean to produce its first harvest. Harvest from June to October, picking the pods when they are about 10cm long. The more you pick, the more it will churn out.

A plant will continue to pod for nearly two months if you keep picking, so keep doing so, even if you are fed up to the back teeth with beans (freeze them, you won’t be so fed up of them in mid-winter!). A neat trick is to apply a liquid feed (e.g. comfrey tea) when the plant has finished harvesting to promote a second crop.

It takes 2-3 months for the French bean to produce its first harvest

GIY recommended varieties
Borlotto Lingua di Fuoco, Blauhilde and Neckargold (climbing), Philetta and Purple Teepee (dwarf).

Problems
French beans are susceptible to late frosts – cover young plants with fleece if frost is forecast. Slugs are a problem for seedlings; it seems they absolutely love them! Bean seed fly can be an issue. These produce soil-living grubs that damage seeds and seedlings.

GIY tips

  • Pick a sunny and sheltered site to grow your beans.
  • Haricot beans are obtained by leaving the pods on the plant until they turn yellow.
  • Hang the plants indoors to dry and when the pods are brittle, remove the beans and dry them on a shallow tray for several days. Store in an airtight container.

Green bean bruschetta

Watch Grow, Cook, Eat every Wednesday on RTÉ One at 8:30pm.

Tarragon Plant Harvesting: Tips On Harvesting Tarragon Herbs

Tarragon is a delicious, licorice flavored, perennial herb useful in any number of your culinary creations. As with most other herbs, tarragon is cultivated for its flavorful leaves rich in essential oils. How do you know when to harvest tarragon though? Read on to find out about tarragon harvest times and how to harvest tarragon.

Tarragon Plant Harvesting

All herbs should be harvested when their essential oils are at their peak, early in the morning after the dew has dried and before the heat of the day. Herbs, in general, can be harvested when they have enough leaves to maintain growth.

As tarragon is a perennial herb, it can be harvested up until late August. Be advised to stop harvesting tarragon herbs one month before the frost date for your area. If you keep harvesting tarragon herbs too late in the season, the plant will likely keep producing new growth. You risk damaging this tender growth if temps get too chilly.

Now you know when to harvest tarragon. What other tarragon plant harvesting info can we dig

up?

How to Harvest Fresh Tarragon

First off, there is no specific tarragon harvest time date. As mentioned above, you may begin harvesting the leaves as soon as the plant has enough to sustain itself. You are never going to denude the entire plant. Always leave at least 1/3 of the foliage on the tarragon. That said, you want the plant to attain some size before hacking at it.

Also, always use kitchen shears or the like, not your fingers. The leaves of the tarragon are very delicate and if you use your hands, you will likely bruise the leaves. Bruising releases the aromatic oils of the tarragon, something you don’t want to happen until you are just about to use it.

Snip off the newer baby shoots of light green leaves. Tarragon produces new growth on the old woody branches. Once removed, wash the shoots with cool water and pat them dry gently.

When you are ready to use them, you can remove the individual leaves by sliding your fingers down the length of the shoot. Use leaves removed in this manner immediately since you have just bruised the leaves and the time is ticking before the aroma and flavor wanes.

You can also individually snip the leaves off the shoot. These can then be used immediately or stored in a freezer bag and frozen. The entire sprig can also be store in a glass with a bit of water at the bottom, sort of like keeping a flower in a vase. You can also dry the tarragon by hanging the shoots in a cool, dry area. Then store the dried tarragon in a container with a tight fitting lid or in a plastic bag with a zip top.

As fall approaches, tarragon’s leaves begin to yellow, signaling that it is about to take a winter sabbatical. At this time, cut the stalks back to 3-4 inches above the crown of the plant to prepare if for the successive spring growing season.

Becoming adept at gardening means knowing how to harvest tarragon, one of the most useful and popular herbs today. For those with little experience in growing this plant, this guide is meant for you.

Step 1 on how to harvest tarragon: collect by branch
You may cut a few leaves here and there if you wish, but it is much better to just slice off branches of the herb. In fact, you can take away as much as a third of the plant without causing any damage. The time to do this would be in the second year after its planting.

By this time the tarragon would reach about 10 inches in height, and the leaves will be ripe for the picking. By fall, the leaves will take on a yellowish color, so pick them before this takes place.

Step 2 on how to harvest tarragon: scrutinize the leaves you pick

No matter how well you plant the herb, there will be a few damaged leaves around the plant. You just need to look at the branch you plucked and get rid of these.

Step 3 on how to harvest tarragon: wash before using
Whether you grow them organically or through the usual means, it is important to rinse the sprigs prior to using them in your meals. It is best to use cool water, and then dry gently using a piece of cloth.

Step 4 on how to harvest tarragon: cut each leaf carefully

Do not pull off the leaves all at once from the branch as it may cause some bruising. Use scissors to remove each individual leaf that you are going to use. If there are some leaves that you want to reserve for later, put them inside freezer bags (the leaves, sprigs, or both). Store them in a freezer. You might want to mark each one so you will know what is inside the containers after several days have passed.

Step 5 on how to harvest tarragon: allow eight weeks prior to re-harvesting
This is necessary for the plant to get back to full bloom. This amount of time is not encessary for other herbs, but when it comes to tarragon, including the French tarragon, it is necessary.

Just like any other herb, being able to plant and knowing how to harvest tarragon is a skill that will grow the more time you spend in the garden. This will become apparent as you work on your herbs.

French Tarragon

Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa

Perennial

Description

French tarragon is a loose, open perennial growing to about two to three feet tall. Leaves are dark green, narrow and slightly twisted. Plant will occasionally produce small, greenish flowers that are sterile. Leaves have a licorice or anise flavor.

Culture

True French tarragon is only available as plants grown from cuttings or root divisions. Because French tarragon produces flowers that are sterile, it cannot be grown from seeds. Seeds that are sold as tarragon at seed racks or in catalogs are seeds of Russian tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus dracunculoides). This is a much taller, coarser plant and its culinary use is considered to be inferior because it lacks the odor and flavor characteristics of French tarragon.

French tarragon prefers a full sun location but will tolerate some light shade. Soils should be well prepared with organic matter and must be well-drained. Tarragon will not tolerate poorly drained soils especially over the winter as this will lead to plants not overwintering successfully. Plants benefit from division every 3-4 years to keep the planting vigorous and productive. Cut back plants in the spring just as growth resumes. Leaving the tops stand over the winter helps to improve overwintering chances.

Harvesting

Young stem tips and leaves can be harvested as needed throughout the season. Because the flavor of tarragon is quickly lost if leaves are dried, it is suggested that this herb be used in the fresh form whenever possible for best flavor. Tarragon is best dried in a cool, dark well-ventilated location and once dried quickly put into sealed containers.

Uses

Use in vinegars, oils, marinades and salads.

Indoor Culture

Small pots of tarragon can be grown in areas where very bright light is available. Pot cuttings using a standard potting media. Keep soils on the dry side. Plants grown indoors will not be of the same quality as those grown outdoors but small amounts of tarragon can be harvested for fresh use.

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French Tarragon Plant Care: Tips For Growing French Tarragon

The “chef’s best friend” or at the very least an essential herb in French cuisine, French tarragon plants (Artemisia dracunculus ‘Sativa’) are sinfully aromatic with a scent redolent of sweet anise and flavor akin to that of licorice. The plants grow to a height of 24 to 36 inches and spread across 12 to 15 inches apart.

Although not classified as a different species, French tarragon herbs should not be confused with Russian tarragon, which has a less intense flavor. This tarragon herb is more likely to be encountered by the home gardener when propagated by seed, while French tarragon herbs are entirely propagated via vegetation. True French tarragon may also be found under the more obscure names of ‘Dragon Sagewort,’ ‘Estragon’ or ‘German Tarragon.’

How to Grow French Tarragon

Growing French tarragon plants will flourish when planted in dry, well-aerated soils with a neutral pH of 6.5 to 7.5, although the herbs will do well in a slightly more acidic medium as well.

Prior to planting French tarragon herbs, prepare the soil by mixing in 1 to 2 inches of well-composted organics or ½ tablespoon of an all-purpose fertilizer (16-16-8) per square foot. Adding organic matter not only feeds the French tarragon plants but will also aid in aerating the soil and improve water drainage. Work the organic nutrients or fertilizer into the top 6 to 8 inches of the soil.

As mentioned, French tarragon is propagated vegetatively via stem cuttings or root division. The reason for this is that French tarragon herbs rarely flower, and thus, have limited seed production. When propagating from root division, French tarragon plant care is required lest you damage the delicate roots. Use a knife instead of a hoe or shovel to gently separate roots and collect the new herb plant. Divide the herb in spring just as the new shoots are breaking ground. You should be able to collect three to five new transplants from the parent French tarragon plant.

Propagation may also occur by taking cuttings from young stems early in the morning. Cut a 4- to 8-inch amount of stem from just below a node and then remove the lower one-third of the leaves. Dip the cut end into rooting hormone and then plant in warm, moist potting soil. Keep the new baby herb consistently misted. Once the roots form on your new tarragon plant, it may be transplanted into the garden in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. Plant the new French tarragon plants 24 inches apart.

Either way you are propagating French tarragon, the plants prefer full sun exposure and warm but not hot temps. Temperatures over 90 F. (32 C.) may require coverage or partial shading of the herb.

French tarragon plants may be grown as either annuals or perennials, depending on your climate and are winter hardy to USDA zone 4. If you are growing French tarragon in a chillier clime, cover the plant with a light mulch during the winter months.

French Tarragon Plant Care

Growing French tarragon plants don’t tolerate wet or overly saturated soil conditions, so watch out for over-watering or situating in locations known for standing water. Water about once a week and allow the soil to dry between watering.

Mulch around the base of the plant to keep the moisture near the surface of your herb and to discourage root rot, otherwise French tarragon is fairly disease and pest resistant.

There is very little need to fertilize French tarragon, and as with most herbs, French tarragon’s flavor only intensifies in nutrient deficient soils. Just fertilize at the time of planting and then let it go.

French tarragon may be pruned and pinched to maintain its shape. Divide the plants in the spring to retain the health of the herb and replant every two to three years.

Once established, prepare to enjoy French tarragon fresh or dry in everything to fish recipes, egg dishes, and butter compounds or even to flavor vinegars. Bon Appétit!

Tarragon

Artemisia dracunculus

by SCMG Stephanie Wrightson

I always include a French tarragon plant in my herb garden…but very few gardener friends do. Perhaps it is out of fashion – just as Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” tends to gather dust on the shelf. Tarragon is one of four fine herbes – along with parsley, chives and chervil – used in classical French cooking but can stand on its own as an aromatic flavoring for chicken, fish and egg dishes.
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is difficult to grow from seed, and the seed you can find is derived from the culinary-deficient “Russian tarragon.” It is important to purchase a plant or to get a root division from a friend that is “French tarragon” (Artemisia dracunculus ‘Sativa’) if using it for culinary purposes. Although tarragon is a perennial herb, it is winter-dormant in most areas of Sonoma County. If your microclimate experiences a hard freeze, it may not recover. And, it will not survive if the area is boggy during the rainy season. But, fear not; a $1.99 4-inch transplant is easily found at your local garden shop.
I never have found tarragon to present pest problems. Some gardeners may have issues with slugs and snails which can be handpicked or trapped under a board and scrapped into the trash. The only extra care I give to this herb is a light fish emulsion application (diluted with water according to the manufacturer’s direction) every six to eight weeks during the growing season.

Mature French tarragon has 2-inch narrow leaves and grows to about two feethigh. Because of its sprawling nature, it is attractive in a pot. While spreading slowly by rhizomes, it is easy to keep in check. It likes well-drained soil and a sunny location. Tarragon rarely flowers. But if yours does, sheer or pinch back the buds to retain the best leaf flavor. Tarragon and many other plants in my herb garden will survive with little water. But, I give my herb garden regular water during the hottest summer months so that the leaves remain succulent and aromatic for culinary purposes. It should be divided and replanted every three to four years.
Tarragon can be dried, but fresh leaves have the strongest flavor. for instructions to dry herbs. Fresh sprigs of tarragon can be used to infuse oil or white vinegar. Fresh chopped leaves added to butter is a tasty savory spread.
Tarragon is a tender leaf. Add it at the end of the cooking process to retain its full flavor. For example, add chopped tarragon at the end of scrambling eggs or sprinkle it inside an almost set omelet. Chopped tarragon can be added to a bread crumb coating for baked fish. Sautéed onions, mushrooms and garlic are simmered with diced tomatoes – with tarragon added the last five minutes of cooking time – a delicious topping for sautéed pounded boneless chicken breasts or sautéed thin cuts of veal.

Photo: Penny Woodward

French tarragon Artemisia dracunculus is one of the trickiest herbs to grow, but also one of the most rewarding. It’s anise-like flavour is clean, subtle and delightful, while also being penetrating; a little goes a long way. It has smooth narrow bright green leaves on stalks that grow from a spreading rootstock. Growing to about 40 cm, it rarely flowers, and never sets viable seed.

Russian tarragon (A. dracunculoides) is similar to look at, but much more vigorous; it both flowers and sets seed. I wouldn’t bother growing it as the flavour is muddy and it is never a good substitute for French tarragon. Although French tarragon can be tricky to grow, once the right position is found, it will thrive. It needs a well-drained slightly gritty soil that is pH neutral or slightly acid, sunlight for about half the day and reasonable water in dry weather. English books tell us that it needs full sun but I find, with our more extreme summers, it does best in a position with morning sun and afternoon shade. Propagate tarragon by root division in early spring, or take cuttings in summer. Every two to three years dig up the whole plant in spring and replant some pieces into fresh soil with well rotted manure and compost added, otherwise it’s serpentine roots eventually choke the plant. Tarragon also grows well in a deep pot and that is where I have mine now. In these dry hot conditions I have much more control over how much sun and water it gets.

Tarragon is a true herbaceous perennial and so disappears completely in winter and is often late to reappear in spring. Make sure you mark where it is planted so you don’t dig it up by mistake. In very cold regions with heavy frosts the roots may need to be protected in winter with a layer of straw. Tip prune regularly to keep it growing densely although if you are using the tarragon all the time this will naturally tip prune it.

In warm humid regions, French tarragon generally succumbs to fungal diseases. So it’s not suitable for tropical or even many sub-tropical regions. In marginal areas you can try keeping the foliage as dry as possible by growing it in a pot in an open, airy position, avoid wetting the leaves when you water, and mulch the root zone with pebbles to help create a dry environment. If you can’t grow this plant, try growing winter tarragon (Tagetes lucida). It thrives in tropical and sub-tropical regions and has a similar but stronger and coarser flavour, so use it in smaller amounts.

French tarragon is a classic culinary herb. It combines beautifully with any dish containing eggs or mushrooms and with a range of chicken and fish dishes. You can also add it to salads and sandwiches, use it as a garnish with soup and or as part of the herb combination fines herbes, (a mixture of chervil, parsley, chives and tarragon) that is added to stock, fish and poultry. My favourite way of using French tarragon (apart from sprinkling it over slowly roasted mushrooms) is to add it to vinegar. In the height of summer, stuff a wide mouthed jar full of fresh tarragon leaves and stems, pour a really good white wine vinegar over the top and leave to stand on a sunny windowsill, shake every few days. After about a month, strain the vinegar into a bottle, add a fresh sprig of tarragon and then use this vinegar right through winter (when no fresh tarragon is available) to make salad dressings and marinades or just sprinkle over veggies or meat.

So go and buy a pot of French tarragon and add this delectable herb to your repertoire. Don’t ever bother buying tarragon seeds as this will be Russian tarragon. And how can you be sure the plant you are buying is true French tarragon? Break off a leaf and chew it, if it is French tarragon then the tip of your tongue will go numb.

By: Penny Woodward

First published: December 2015

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