Growing and Using Tarragon

Growing and Using Tarragon
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tarragonTarragon is an herb that mixes a licorice/anise type of taste with that of a peppery flavor. There are two plants that can be used as tarragon, however, the true variety is known as French tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus var.sativa. The other is known as Russian tarragon, Artemisia dracunculoides. The first and best tarragon known as French tarragon cannot be grown from seed. Plan to purchase a plant from a nursery. Russian tarragon is hardier, looks much the same, but the taste is nowhere near what the French variety is. It's flavor is more bitter and not as strong.
Tarragon is not hardy--it will last perhaps during a light freeze, if it's sheltered against a wall in a full sun location with good drainage. Try mulching it and it may survive. Otherwise bring it inside if possible, take cuttings or place it in a cold frame. Divide the plant every 3-4 years or the flavor will suffer some. Plus, you'll end up with more plants to keep and give to friends! It's one of the plants that requires cold to go dormant, but can't stand a heavy freeze. Leave the pot outside, but bring it in before a hard freeze. So, in ideal conditions tarragon needs a warm summer, a mild winter and good soil that isn't too wet or dry. Also, don't allow it to flower. If you see buds forming, snip them off. Allowing them to grow will diminish the flavor.

A substitute for French or Russian tarragon is the Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida), a member of the marigold family. It's much the same type of flavor with a slight cinnamon overtone. Some people actually prefer this plant to actual tarragon. It needs well-drained soil and full sun. It can take hotter summers than the French variety, and can be brought in quite easily in cold climates. It can also be started from seed.

To dry tarragon, hang the branches in a dark warm place (such as an attic, or in a paper bag). When dry place the leaves into a jar and store away from heat and light. The dried does not really taste the same as fresh, but will make due when you can't have fresh. You can also freeze the leaves in small freezer bags to use throughout the winter. Tarragon makes a nice vinegar. Simply cover a handful of the leaves in a quart jar with your choice of vinegar and allow it to stand for a month. At this point remove the leaves, and the vinegar is ready to use.

French tarragon is one of the essential ingredients in Herbes de Provence, bouquet garni and fines herbes as well as sauce Béarnaise. It's an important and often used herb in French cooking. Tarragon goes well with fish, pork, beef, poultry, game, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and most vegetables. It's flavor is unique and strong-so use it sparingly. It also goes well with lemons and oranges for a unique taste. It can be used in cream sauces, butters, soups, sour cream, and yogurt. The first two recipes are two versions of a tarragon mayonnaise that can be used in pasta salads, sandwiches, or anywhere you might need more than a plain mayonnaise!

Tarragon Mayonnaise

1/4 cup mayonnaise, light or regular
2 green onions, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons snipped fresh tarragon or 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed

In a small bowl combine mayonnaise or salad dressing, green onions, lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons fresh tarragon. Cover and chill.

Tarragon Mayonnaise Ingredients:

1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup plain yogurt
4 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
2 teaspoon prepared horseradish
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon small capers, drained and rinsed (optional)

In a medium bowl, combine mayonnaise, yogurt, onions, capers, lemon juice, tarragon, mustard, horseradish, salt, and pepper; mix until well blended. Cover and store in refrigerator until ready to use.

Tarragon Chicken Salad

1 1/4 pounds boneless chicken breasts, cooked
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 cup seedless red or green grapes, cut into halves
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup plain nonfat or light yogurt
1/4 cup reduced-fat or regular mayonnaise
2 tablespoons finely sliced green onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper

Cut chicken into 1/2-inch cubes. Combine the chicken, celery, grapes and raisins in a large bowl. Combine the yogurt, mayonnaise, green onions, tarragon, salt and pepper in small bowl. Mix gently with the chicken mixture. Serve on buns, croissants or bagels. You can also serve on lettuce leaves as a salad.

Tarragon Oil

1 cup fresh tarragon leaves
3/4 cup olive oil

Rinse the tarragon under cold water. Pat it with paper towels and transfer to a blender or food processor. Add 3/4 cup of the olive oil and a pinch of salt and blend until smooth. Drizzle over cooked vegetables such as asparagus, endive or other green vegetables.

Tarragon Baked Cornish Hens

2 (1 1/2 lb.) Cornish hens, split lengthwise
1/4 cup of white wine or water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons dried tarragon leaves
1 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Combine wine, lemon juice, oil, garlic, tarragon leaves, salt and pepper. Marinate the hens with the this, refrigerate covered for 1 hour. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes uncovered. Baste with the pan juices and continue to bake for an additional 30 minutes. Serve with a vegetables, rolls and salad for an elegant meal.

Tarragon Shrimp

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon herb vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon green onions, sliced thinly-top and bottom removed
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt and ground pepper
1 pound medium sized cooked shrimp
2 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped

In a large mixing bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, mustard, green onions, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Add the shrimp and tarragon, mix well. Cover and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour. Place the shrimp over a bed of chilled greens. Serves 4 for an appetizer.


About The Author

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer living on ten acres in rural Michigan with her husband and three kids. She is a mom, grandma, gardener, cook and writer. She blogs on all of these topics at


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