Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
By Ronnie Dauber, Garden Guides Contributor
About TarragonThis hardy perennial herb is more accurately referred to as French tarragon. It has earned its name from French chefs who have found that the leaves of the tarragon plant add a distinctive flavor to their dishes. As a result, the leaves of this tasty herb have become an essential ingredient in French cooking all over the world.
Site PreparationTarragon can be a very difficult herb to grow and the ground must be prepared exactly in order for the plant to succeed. The soil needs to be rich, sandy, well-drained and limed. The plants require full sun or partial shade and should not be over-watered.
Special FeaturesFrench tarragon plants grow to approximately 36 inches high and produce dark, shiny green leaves that cover its stem from the base to the top of the plant. These leaves have become a highly sought after cooking commodity, and it is the distinctive flavor found only in the leaves of the tarragon plant that keeps it in such high demand as a cooking herb.
Choosing a VarietyThe tarragon herb plant does not belong to a family of similar herbs with different varieties. Basically, the French tarragon is in a category all by itself and doesn't boast of any other varieties.
PlantingFrench tarragon can be planted outside in the early spring after the last frost. The plants thrive in a garden that has full sun, although they can survive in partial shade. Plants that reached maturity in the previous year can be divided at the roots in the early spring and transplanted back into the garden as two plants. They should be planted 2 feet apart to allow room for growth.
CareTarragon plants need to be mulched well with compost. It is crucial that the soil does not become too wet or acidic or else the plants will die. Although they can survive in partial shade, Tarragon plants prefer to have full sunlight to grow properly.
Harvest and StorageThe leaves of the Tarragon plant can be harvested starting from 6 to 8 weeks after transplanting them outside. These plants need to be handled gently as they bruise easily. It has been suggested that the leaves should be picked in the early morning in order to capture the best flavor. Once the leaves are picked they can be stored by drying them and using them as a ground garnish or kept frozen in plastic bags. It is preferred by many chefs, however, that tarragon leaves be used immediately after picking because the flavor is best when fresh.