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Growing Tarragon in your Garden

4/13/2011 1:47:28 PM

Tags: Tarragon, Ali Hawkins, Gardening, Herb Identification

A. HawkinsAli has been gardening since she was young. Her family always had a garden where she used to love planting and drying herbs. As she has grown up and moved around the world, she has found a constant comfort in gardening and herbs. (www.adventuresofanurbangardener.blogspot.com)  

Garden buyers—be informed this spring!

When you're at the local garden store or nursery I want to make sure you go in armed with knowledge about what I think may be one of those most mis-labeled herbs.

There are several plants that can be and are labeled tarragon. You'll want to be familiar with a few tidbits of information to determine exactly which of these plants you're buying.

4-13-2011-french tarragonFRENCH TARRAGON (Artemisia dracunculus)

This herb, pictured at right, is considered by most to be the "genuine" culinary herb and is most likely the tarragon plant you're hoping to plant in you're garden.

It is a perennial that grows in partial sun and requires well-drained soil. The reason French tarragon is hard to find and is often substituted for is because it very rarely goes to seed. The most common way of growing new tarragon plants is through propagation from cuttings in the spring. The plant has woody stems with thin blue-green leaves

The best way to determine if your plant is French tarragon is through a taste test. Take a leaf off the tarragon plant and taste it. If it is genuine French tarragon it will have an anise flavor and a strong "tongue numbing" effect.

RUSSIAN TARRAGON (Artemisa dracunculoides)

The largest impostor to French tarragon is Russian tarragon. It is in the same family as French tarragon so this is why it is often substituted. Russian tarragon CAN be grown from seed. So if you're looking at a seed catalog and it lists tarragon, you can bet the $2 that the seed packet costs it is Russian tarragon.

If you're at the nursery doing the taste test, Russian tarragon will have similar anise flavor but it will be much more subtle and the "tongue numbing" effect will be minimal.

SPANISH, WINTER, TEXAS AND MEXICAN TARRAGON (Tagetes lucida)

When searching for tarragon plants you may also encounter plants labeled as Spanish, Winter, Texas or Mexican tarragon. These are all the same plant in the marigold family. The plant is also often used as a substitute for French tarragon because it grows better in humid climates. However, it lacks the "bite" of French tarragon

So the morale of this story is "Buyer be Informed." Make sure you're buying what you are paying for. All of these plants are wonderful to grow and use, just make sure you're getting what you're hoping for. And taste a leaf before buying!

Do you have any favorite uses or recipes for Tarragon?

Photo Credit: Alison Hawkins
This is my young French tarragon plant from a local farm. I did the “taste test” first!  



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