Herb Profiles: Tarragon

Fresh Tarragon Leaves

Fresh Tarragon Leaves

Fresh Tarragon

INTRODUCTION: The herb tarragon is usually French tarragon.  It is one of the great culinary herbs. This herb has been used in culinary endeavors in France for over 800 years.   Tarragon originated in southern Europe and now can be found in Asia, and the western United States. Not to be confused with Russian tarragon, which does not have the same characteristic flavor. Cooks differ on its value. The French are particularly fond of the herb and have mastered its use in culinary creations.

HISTORICAL FACTS: It has a distinctly strong flavor and derives its name from this fact.  Tarragon means “little Dragon” from the French word estrogen. The French adopted this unique herb and this catapulted into culinary prominence. Although you will find the herb used sparingly in other cultures the French have raised its use to a new level.  In Prussia you will find it primarily used in salads and meats.

HORTICULTURAL FACTS: French tarragon is actually a member of the daisy family. It is a woody, spreading perennial.  Tarragon is hardy to -10°.  It reaches a height of 1 to 3 feet. The plant has shiny green leaves, slender shape and pointed at the ends. Its flowers are greenish white buds that appear in bundles or clusters at the end of the stems.

GROWING GUIDELINES: The herb plant spreads by rhizomes and actually does not propagate by seeds.  It propagates by root cuttings or dividing clumps.  Tarragon clumps should be divided every three or four years. Cut the stems to ground level in winter and mulch for protection.

FLOWERING FACTS: Flowers are tiny and easy to miss.  Usually produces flowers mid-to-late summer but the flowers do not produce seeds

Tarragon Culinary Use

CULINARY FACTS: This herb is best paired with fresh green salads, egg dishes, cheeses, chicken recipes, vinegars and fish. Few herbs improve the flavor of fish as much as this one.  Add it to your fresh salad creations. Finely chopped leaves create a tasty salad.  Add the herb to mayonnaise and mustards.  It makes a wonderful addition to omelets, sauces, butters and purées. French cooks use it in their many white sauces. Tarragon is best used in dishes that feature its flavor as the dominant offering. It is an essential ingredient in Bearnaise sauces. Many consumers know the use of the herb as tarragon vinegar. You can purchase the final product, however just take a few sprigs of the herb, insert them into a white wine vinegar jar and seal it.  Let it seep for 2 to 3 months. The result is some very delicious vinegar.  One unique quality is that it diffuses very quickly through hot dishes. Its flavor can dominate a recipe so use it sparingly in your delicate dishes.

HARVESTING TIPS: Dried tarragon loses its flavor very quickly.  Many experts feel that dried tarragon takes on a hay-like quality. Fresh tarragon sprigs can be frozen in airtight plastic bags. Additionally you can create a pesto-like next mixture in your food processor.  Spoon into ice cube trays and freeze the mixture.  Place the frozen cubes in airtight plastic bags for later use.

FLAVOR: it has a distinctive sweet Anise-like flavor described as uniquely spicy, sharp and aromatic.

HOME GARDEN: indoors-outdoors

Tarragon Medicinal Use

MEDICINAL FACTS: Tarragon has a mild anesthetic property when used medicinally.  It also has sedative properties.  If used as a tea it has calming properties and is used as a hyperactivity treatment. Herbalists will use the herb as an digestive aid because of its ability to breakdown meat fats and proteins. Supposed to be useful in treatment of rheumatoid and arthritic pain management.

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