When it comes to distinctive flavor, French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus 'Sativa') is the only true tarragon, with an aromatic mingling of anise along with hints of licorice, pepper and basil.
Though sometimes sold as a culinary tarragon, Russian tarragon (A. dracunculus var. inodora) has a pungent, slightly bitter flavor. Simply rub the leaves between your fingers and take a whiff: French tarragon smells of anise and licorice; Russian tarragon does not.
• French tarragon is usually grown from plants or propagated by division and root cuttings, as it rarely sets seed. When it does, the seeds often are sterile.
• Grow tarragon in well-drained soil and moderate to full sun, providing a bit of afternoon shade in areas where summers are hot. Compacted or soggy soil may lead to its demise.
• Plants die to the ground in winter and are hardy to USDA Zones 4 to 9. Protect its shallow roots by mulching with straw, shredded leaves or bark before heavy frost sets in.
• When growing tarragon where winters are harsh, set up a cold frame over the plant, or pot up in fall and overwinter indoors near a bright window.
Harvest Tarragon and Preserve its Flavor
• Fresh is best, as the leaves lose much of their essence when dried. Fresh frozen leaves retain more flavor than dried leaves. You can freeze leaves in an airtight freezer bag, or chop leaves and freeze in ice-cube trays covered in water, broth, melted butter or oil.
• “Freeze dry” tarragon in the refrigerator by placing fresh sprigs in a small paper bag. Leaves will dry in three to four weeks and retain color and flavor.
Craft a Masterpiece from Culinary Herbs
• Use in classic sauces like béarnaise, tartare and hollandaise; in vinaigrettes, salad dressings, homemade vinegars and oils; or add to preserves, pickles and mustards.
• Add to creamy soups, cheese and egg dishes such as omelets and quiches; combine with fish, meat or poultry; add to asparagus, cauliflower, peas, greens, potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini or mushrooms.
• Tarragon’s flavor can be dominating, so use lightly and add near the end of cooking time.
Contributing Editor Kris Wetherbee tends her culinary herbs in western Oregon.