Aromatic Culinary Herb Called the Tarragon
Also, Known As:
- Dragon’s Mugwort
- French Tarragon
- German Tarragon
- True Tarragon
Tarragon is a green perennial shrub that is smooth and lacking in hairs and bristles. The shrub is native to the sunny and dry regions of the northern hemisphere, especially the United States, Asia, and Siberia. The plant derives its English name from the French estrange denoting ‘little dragon’. People in Europe grow this shrub commercially for it perfumed leaves that pass on a licorice-anise essence to salads, sauces, and foods prepared with vinegar. Normally, the tarragon plant, having slender stalks, grows up to a height of two feet and bears glossy green, elongated and slender leaves that are undivided. This shrub is intimately related to wormwood. Tarragon has fibrous roots that are long and extend to all areas where they are grown by means of runners. The shrub bears small flowers that are circular and have a yellow hue with blackheads. Flowers of this herb rarely open completely.
A tea prepared with tarragon is a traditional French remedy for treating insomnia and hyperactivity or learning disorder. This tea has shown to be very effective in healing these conditions and the success rate has been considerably high. To treat insomnia, prepare the tarragon tea by steeping 1.5 teaspoonfuls of the dehydrated herb in 1.75 cups of boiling water. Cover the tea and keep it away from heat for approximately 40 minutes. It is important to prepare the herbal tea for around an hour before you retire to bed. Once the tea is prepared, filter the liquid in a cup and drink while it is tepid.
Homemade vinegar prepared with this herb is also an effective medication for treating digestive disorders. Taking one teaspoonful of this vinegar before every meal invigorates the digestive system and also helps to alleviate several problems related to digestion. To prepare the vinegar with tarragon, take a wide-mouthed fruit jar and pack it with freshly collected leaves of the herb – ideally harvested on a dry day just ahead of the blooming of the herb. Separate the picked leaves from their stalks and dehydrate them a bit on a flat cookie sheet coated with a foil over a low flame. Once the leaves are somewhat dry, put them in the fruit jar and swathe them with apple cider vinegar and half a teaspoonful of recently squeezed lemon juice and an equal amount of lime juice. Allow the mixture to remain as it is for approximately seven hours. Next, filter the liquid through five layers of cotton gauze used to wrap cheese or a dirt free piece of flannel material into another container having an airtight cover. Store the vinegar in a cool and dry place in the pantry or cupboard for use whenever necessary.
Tarragon leaves that are flavored with anise, as well as the crests of the flowers, are often used to spice up stews, sauces, soups, meat, eggs, fish and even pickles. Tarragon leaves, as well as the essential oils derived from the herb too, are used in the preparation of tarragon vinegar, mustard, tartar sauce as well as alcoholic beverages. It may be noted here that the Russian tarragon, a different species of the herb, is regularly mistaken for the French tarragon and also sold as French tarragon in the market. Russian tarragon is comparatively taller than the French tarragon, and apart from this aspect, both varieties of the herb have a similar appearance. However, as far as the flavor is considered, the French tarragon is considered to be a superior variety between the two.
It is interesting to note that during the medieval period, devotees undertaking pilgrimages to distant lands would often pack their shoes with stems of tarragon with the belief that the herb would provide them with additional energy and strength. As mentioned earlier, the common or English name of this herb is believed to be a derivative of the French estragon. The French estragon, in turn, got its name from the Latin term ‘dracunculus’ denoting ‘little dragon’. In some places, tarragon is also referred to as the ‘dragon herb’.
The herb is a perennial shrub belonging to the Composite family – the family of which daisies are also members. The shrub usually has slender stems and grows up to a height of two feet. Tarragon bears slender leaves that have a profoundly green hue. The flowers of the plant are diminutive and yellowish in color. The herb has a preference for a temperate and arid climatic condition and grows best in moderately rich soil having a perfect drainage system. However, tarragon can also grow on any other soil, even soils bereft of adequate nourishment for the plant.
As discussed above, the herb is found in two main varieties – French tarragon and Russian tarragon. The Russian tarragon is comparatively taller than the French tarragon but does not possess aromatic oil that has the essence of anise. Hence, it is little surprise that the French tarragon is preferred to the Russian tarragon both in culinary as well as therapeutic purposes. However, the French tarragon is somewhat expensive compared to the Russian variety, as it rarely produces seeds. In fact, the French tarragon is only propagated by root divisions and cuttings and growth of plants of this variety is comparatively slow.
The propagation of tarragon is usually undertaken during the spring or in autumn by means of root cuttings and root divisions. These root cuttings are initially planted in pots indoors and later put in their permanent positions outdoors in a temperate, summer climate when they are well established. The tarragon shrubs require proper side dressings with superior quality composed manure during spring each year. This shrub has extended fibrous as well as runners on the sides of the roots and they do not like wet conditions. Many people plant tarragons on sloped terrains with a view to avoiding water-logging at the base of the plants. Although the tarragon plants do not like much of water, it is also essential to be careful that the roots do not become dehydrated. Providing the plants with a protective cover like mulches is an excellent way to preserve the soil humidity at the base of the shrub. In fact, whenever there is a threat of heavy frosting, it is essential to mulch the tarragon plants a great deal. On the other hand, if you are growing the shrub in an area where the winters are very harsh, it is advisable to dig up the tarragon plants and plant them in separate containers during autumn and place them indoors with a view to protecting them from frosts. The plants may again be planted outdoors when the weather becomes warm once more.
It is best to harvest tarragon plants just before they start flowering, as this is the time when they possess maximum essence and therapeutic value. While harvesting the plant, it is important to leave one inch of the stem from the ground to enable new shoots to grow from of the stem. Following the harvesting, the tarragon plants need to be cut down to a reasonable size that is easy to handle and store. For culinary purposes, tarragon is used both fresh as well as dehydrated. In addition, the cooks also use the plant preserved in vinegar or stored in frozen conditions. Similarly, both frozen and dried tarragon is used for therapeutic purposes. However, it is important to note that the herb loses some of its aromatic aspects when it is dehydrated for preserving. It is important not to dry tarragon mechanically or in sunlight. The best way to dry this herb is to hang the tarragon branches upside down in bundles in a warm and dark place. When the stems of the plant have dehydrated, carefully collect the dry leaves.
The tarragon, still known as the ‘little dragon’ in France, continues to be a favorite ingredient in French cuisines. However, the fact remains that apart from the plants’ mild licorice essence, very few people are aware that the herb also possesses several therapeutic properties. In fact, tarragon has more utilities than just adding essence to French cuisines, such as Lobster Thermidor or béarnaise sauce. Many herbal medical practitioners claim that the herb encloses a number of juices/enzymes that alleviate digestive problems. Some of these enzymes help in digesting meat and proteins better. In addition, the herb is also believed to possess a gentle and non-irritating diuretic property that facilitates our system to get rid of toxic substances to let loose during the digestion of meat and a number of other proteins.
An infusion prepared with the leaves of tarragon has been traditionally recommended to improve appetite, alleviate flatulence and colic, control menstruation, to provide relief from the pain caused by arthritis, gout, and rheumatism as well as flush out worms from the body. It is said that when freshly collected tarragon leaves or roots are topically applied to cuts, sores, and even teeth, they act as a local painkiller.
Plant Parts Used:
Aerial parts, root.
That tarragon encourages the digestive process and alleviates a number of problems associated with the digestive system have already been discussed. In addition, the herb is also believed to possess a gentle tranquilizing property and helps in alleviating insomnia. The herb also mildly stimulates menstruation and, hence it is administered to women who endure delayed periods. The root of the herb has been traditionally used to cure toothaches.
Owing to its licorice-anise essence, tarragon is a necessary ingredient in the preparation of Hollandaise sauce, Béarnaise sauce, sauce tartare, Montpellier butter and many vinaigrette’s as well as salad dressings. This plant is always incorporated in French fines herb blends. In addition, tarragon leaves are extensively used to add essence to fish, shellfish, meat and poultry dishes, especially creamy soups, veal, omelets, quiche and mouth-watering oeufs en gelee. Many people also use the leaves of this herb to season dishes prepared with spinach and mushrooms. While using tarragon leaves to spice up your cooking always remember to add them to the delicacies only a few minutes before they are ready to be served because the leaves of this herb take just about a few minutes to release their flavor/ essence.
If you choose, you may season steamed vegetables like cauliflower, potatoes, zucchini, peas and summer squash by adding tarragon butter to them with a view to playing up the essence of these dishes. Some people also add a tad of fresh tarragon leaves to season green salads. As the flavor of green salads become conspicuous when tarragon leaves are added, it is advised that they should be used carefully and in moderation.
You may also prepare vinegar using freshly cut tarragon stems. To prepare the tarragon vinegar put the stems of the herb in a bottle containing wine, cider or white vinegar. Allow the stems to steep in the liquid of your preference for about three to four weeks. If possible, the bottle containing the mixture should be kept in sunlight. The vinegar is ready for use after a month after its preparation.
In addition to the above mentioned culinary uses of tarragon, the herb is used as an exceptional constituent in some French Dijon mustard. The herb is also widely used to commercially add essence to baked foods, vinegar, beverages, mustard’s as well as condiments, sauces, salad dressings and even soup blends.
The tarragon plant develops best in temperate and arid climatic conditions. The herb has a preference for light soils that have a good drainage system. The recommended pH for growing tarragon varies between 6.0 and 7.5. In order to grow this shrub, prepare the soil by adding a gentle deposit of manure to the soil during the early phase of spring. Although the tarragon grows best in full sunlight, it can also thrive in locations where there is filtered sunlight or partial shade.
Tarragon shrubs seldom bear seeds and, hence, the plant is propagated by means of root division and root cuttings. Even if some plants bear seeds, they are usually sterile. You may also procure young tarragon plants from your neighborhood nursery and plant them in your garden during the spring or early phase of summer. While planting the young tarragon plants, take care to keep them at least 45 cm or 18 inches away from each other.
Tarragon plants thrive best when grown in a container having a depth of 12 inches or 30 cm and are placed in full sunlight. While growing this shrub, you should use average soil-based potting mixtures and add some amount of coarse sand to it with a view to ensuring a good drainage system. You may also add some compost or old manure to the soil mix for adequate nourishment of the plants. As the tarragon plants prefer a warm and arid climatic condition, they require special protection during the winter months. Thus, to protect the plants during the cold months, you need to cut the stems before the ground begins to freeze and also provide adequate mulching with straw or leaves.
Tarragon shrubs have long roots with runners and, hence, it is essential to ensure that the roots do not entangle or form a mesh. To avoid such situations, every spring divide the grown-up shrubs as soon as the first tips of the new shoots come out from the plants. Dig the plants out of the soil and using a knife, separate the runners that almost resemble the spaghetti into three to five shoot dissections. However, it is important to exercise caution that you do not chop the runners from the roots with a shovel, as they are very fragile and come off easily. At the same time, take care to substitute the existing plants once in every three to four years because as the plants grow older, they lose their flavor and essence.
While the tarragon is usually considered to be free from insect invasions, it is vulnerable to root decay when grown in damp soil. You may feed the plants with fertilizers twice a year when they are growing in a container/ pot. While fertilizing the plants, ensure that you always use low measures of the products you are using. Adding an excess of fertilizers to the soil where you are growing tarragon will ultimately result in the leaves of the plants losing their flavor and essence. In addition, ensure that the soil retains moisture all the time, but is never squelchy or drenched.
By the middle of the summer, you need to, shift the outdoor potted plants indoors. Tarragon plant ought to be brought in contact with some cold – no less than once a month. The plants should be exposed to a temperature of 4° C or 39° F before they are taken indoors. If this is not done, the growth of the tarragon plants will suffer. However, it needs to be mentioned here that growing tarragon plants indoors is a complicated task since the plant need to be exposed to some cold during the winter. Therefore, you may try to plant small tarragon plants in individual pots during the latter part of autumn before the ground starts freezing and place the pots in a garage which is not heated during the winter months. During this period, provide the plants with sufficient moisture to protect their roots from dehydrating. After the lapse of six months, take the plants out of the garage and place the pots in a window where it is cool, but enough sunlight. Alternately, you may also grow the plants under plant lights inside the house and continue to feed them with more water and observe if there is any new growth. In order to maintain their robust growth indoors, it is essential to provide the tarragon plants with five hours of direct sunlight or at least 12 hours of plant lights.
Tarragon contains tannins, coumarins, and flavonoids, and up to 0.8% volatile oil, consisting of up to 70% methyl chervicol (estragole), which is toxic and potentially carcinogenic.
The best time to harvest tarragon is just before the plants begin to blossom. At other times, you should pick the leaves of this herb fresh, just before you desire to use them. Tarragon leaves and roots may be dried or frozen for later use. In order to dry tarragon, cut the entire stems of the plant and hang them upside down in bundles in any dark and airy place. Alternately, you may also pluck the leaves of the plants and put them on cookie sheets lined with a foil and place it on a low flame to dehydrate. When the leaves are dry, crush them and store in a tight lid container. Remember, never dry the tarragon leaves in sunlight.
Compared to dry preserving the tarragon leaves, it is always preferable to conserve them in a frozen condition. This is primarily owing to the fact that when the tarragon leaves are frozen they retain much of their essence. To preserve the leaves of the herb in a frozen condition just put them in ice cubes, or in butter or oil.
The following ingredients are required to prepare vinegar with tarragon:
- One quart of white wine vinegar
- One cup of tightly packed fresh tarragon stems tips
- One long freshly cut tarragon plant stem
To prepare the vinegar, first, smash the freshly picked tarragon leaves in the bottom of a bowl and squash them into a one-quart canning jar. Next, near boil the white wine vinegar, but be careful not to boil it. When it attains the near boiling temperature, pour the white wine vinegar immediately over the herb leaves and stem in the container leaving a space of around two inches at the top. Put the lid of the container in an airtight manner and preserve the ingredients in a warm room for around 10 days. From time to time, shake the jar with a view to mixing the contents well. After 10 days, taste the vinegar and if you find that the product does not have a strong essence, take out the herbs from the container. Again crush a cupful of tarragon leaves and decant the vinegar over it. Leave it to marinate for another 10 days. Next, filter the vinegar. Heat a freshly cut branch of tarragon plant with leaves in boiling water for about 15 seconds and push it down into the bottle containing the white wine vinegar. Then pour the tarragon vinegar above it and put an airtight cover on the jar. The tarragon vinegar is now ready for use.
Marinade with Tarragon for Vegetables:
To prepare a marinade with tarragon for different steamed vegetables, you need the following ingredients:
- A half cupful of olive oil
- Three tablespoonfuls of filtered lemon juice
- Three tablespoonfuls of cider vinegar
- A one-eighth teaspoonful of pepper
- One teaspoon of salt
- One clove peeled and chop up garlic
- Two tablespoonfuls shredded fresh tarragon or 1 tablespoonful dried tarragon
Mix all the ingredients and pound them for around two minutes. Alternately, you may process the constituents in a blender for about one minute at a slow pace. The blend makes around three-fourths of a cup. Next, pour the blend on top of the warm vegetables and let them marinate for quite a few hours before you serve the dish.
Linguine with White Clam Sauce:
The following ingredients are required to prepare a tarragon linguine with white clam sauce:
- Two cloves of peeled and crushed garlic
- One-fourth cupful of olive oil
- Half a cup of dry white wine
- Adequate liquor from clams
- Two six and a half ounce cans of shred clams or two cupfuls of fresh chopped up clams
- Two tablespoonfuls of freshly cut tarragon or one tablespoonful of the dried herb
- One-fourth cup of chopped parsley
- Four portions of cooked linguine
- Salt and pepper to suit the taste
First, heat the olive oil and crushed garlic in an average-sized saucepan till they turn brownish in color. Next, add the dry white wine and the liquor from the clams to the saucepan. Add the tarragon to the mixture while they are hot. When you have added the herb to the mixture, cover the saucepan and allow it to steep for about three minutes with a view to obtaining the essence of the herb. After three minutes, add the parsley and the clams to the mixture and cook it till it is sufficient to heat the clams complete. At this stage add salt and pepper accordingly so that the preparation tastes good. Finally, blend the hot linguine, cooked with just enough hot sauce and serve the dish immediately. This quantity of the preparation is sufficient for four people.