Thursday, 7 April 2016


“Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good.” - Alice May Brock

Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a species of perennial herb in the Asteraceae (sunflower) family. It is widespread in the wild across much of Eurasia and North America, and is cultivated for culinary and medicinal purposes in many places. One sub-species, Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa, is cultivated for use of the leaves as an aromatic culinary herb. In some other sub-species, the characteristic aroma is largely absent. The species is polymorphic. Informal names for distinguishing the variations include “French tarragon” (best for culinary use), “Russian tarragon” (typically better than wild tarragon but not as good as so-called French tarragon for culinary use), and “wild tarragon” (covers various types).

Tarragon grows to 120–150 cm tall, with slender branched stems. The leaves are lanceolate, 2–8 cm long and 2–10 mm broad, glossy green, with an entire margin. The flowers are produced in small capitulae 2–4 mm diameter, each capitulum containing up to 40 yellow or greenish-yellow florets. French tarragon, however, seldom produces any flowers (or seeds). Some tarragon plants produce seeds that are generally only sterile. Others produce viable seeds. Tarragon has rhizomatous roots and it readily reproduces from the rhizomes.

French tarragon is the variety generally considered best for the kitchen, but is never grown from seed as the flowers are sterile; instead it is propagated by root division. It is normally purchased as a plant, and some care must be taken to ensure that true French tarragon is purchased. A perennial, it normally goes dormant in winter. It likes a hot, sunny spot, without excessive watering.

Russian tarragon (A. dracunculoides L.) can be grown from seed but is much weaker in flavour when compared to the French variety. However, Russian tarragon is a far more hardy and vigorous plant, spreading at the roots and growing over a meter tall. This tarragon actually prefers poor soils and happily tolerates drought and neglect. It is not as strongly aromatic and flavoursome as its French cousin, but it produces many more leaves from early spring onwards that are mild and good in salads and cooked food. Russian tarragon loses what flavour it has as it ages and is widely considered useless as a culinary herb, though it is sometimes used in crafts. The young stems in early spring can be cooked as an asparagus substitute.

Horticulturists recommend that Russian tarragon be grown indoors from seed and planted out in the summer. The spreading plants can be divided easily. A better substitute for French tarragon is Spanish tarragon (Tagetes lucida), also known as Mexican mint marigold, Mexican tarragon, Texas tarragon, or winter tarragon. It is much more reminiscent of French tarragon, with a hint of anise. Although not in the same genus as the other tarragons, Spanish tarragon has a stronger flavour than Russian tarragon that does not diminish significantly with age.

Tarragon is one of the four fines herbes of French cooking (finely chopped parsley, chives, tarragon, and chervil), and is particularly suitable for chicken, fish and egg dishes. Tarragon is the main flavouring component of Béarnaise sauce. Fresh, lightly bruised sprigs of tarragon are steeped in vinegar to produce tarragon vinegar. Tarragon is used to flavour a popular carbonated soft drink in the countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and, by extension, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The drink, named Tarhun is made out of sugary tarragon concentrate and coloured bright green. In Iran, tarragon is used as a side dish in sabzi khordan (fresh herbs), or in stews and in Persian style pickles, particularly ‘khiar shoor’. In Slovenia, tarragon is used in a variation of the traditional nut roll sweet cake, called potica. In Hungary a popular kind of chicken soup is flavoured with tarragon.

Béarnaise Sauce
1 tablespoon plus 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 2 cm cubes
3 tablespoons minced shallots
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and a pinch of salt and pepper; stir to coat. Stir in vinegar, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until vinegar is evaporated, 3-4 minutes.
Reduce heat to low and continue cooking shallots, stirring frequently, until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer shallot reduction to a small bowl and let cool completely.
Meanwhile, fill a blender with hot water to warm it; set aside. Melt remaining 1 cup butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until butter is foamy. Transfer butter to a measuring cup. Drain blender and dry well. Combine egg yolks, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon water in warm, dry blender. Purée mixture until smooth.
Remove lid insert of blender. With blender running, slowly pour in hot butter in a thin stream of droplets, discarding milk solids at bottom of measuring cup. Continue blending until a smooth, creamy sauce forms, 2-3 minutes. Pour sauce into a medium bowl. Stir in shallot reduction and tarragon and season to taste with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired. Can be made 1 hour ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature. 


  1. Agreed... Tarragon is one of the four finest herbs of French cooking although I may not use the order given: parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil. The joy of having herbs in pots on the veranda or back patio is that even people without a large back yard can still grow all the fresh herbs they need. And the aroma is a delight.

    I also have basil, rosemary and mint.

  2. Tarragon is one of my favorite herbs ... it's such a strong flavor that I must always remember to go easy.

  3. Yummy! I am growing tarragon in my greenhouse now. Such a delicious scent.

  4. Hmmm - Thanks for the good recipe. I like your post.
    Many greetings, ZamJu

  5. Such a versatile little herb. An intriguing, detailed, informative post.