Tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus: “Little Dragon”
Tarragon, a perennial herb in the lettuce family, derives its name from the Latin word dracunculus, meaning “little dragon.” It once was believed the herb could alleviate injuries caused by the poisonous bites of snakes or dogs (or dragons) and the name stuck.
Nowadays, French tarragon is grown for culinary use, although the herb also serves as a health tonic, sore tooth remedy, digestive, soda flavoring, or vinegar flavoring.
Photography by Michelle Slatalla.
Above: Tarragon has thin, swordlike leaves. It will grow 2 to 3 feet tall in the garden, and has feathery green leaves, making it an excellent choice for layering or height in an herb garden.
Fresh tarragon has a much stronger taste than dried, so keep that in mind when you’re snipping from your own garden or pot.
Above: Grow the little dragon in a pot on your counter or as an evergreen herb in the backyard, and enjoy its light green, feathery foliage year round. Buy cuttings or transplants in early spring, and make sure to give the plants either large pots or plenty of room in the garden, as they can reach about a foot in diameter and grow from 2 to 3 feet tall. With the simple steps of pruning back in the fall, mulching lightly in the winter, and dividing the plants every third or fourth spring, your tarragon should keep on producing healthy flavor for many seasons.
- Tarragon will succeed almost anywhere you place it in your garden–simply make sure to prune and water sparingly.
- French tarragon is the superior culinary choice over Russian tarragon, which has coarser leaves and less flavor.
- Russian tarragon spreads more readily for ornamental or ground cover purposes.
Keep It Alive
- Grow tarragon in full or partial sun.
- Water sparingly once established; plant in well-drained soil.
- Tarragon will grow indoors or out. Plant transplants in the spring or fall.
Above: Gardenista editor Michelle Slatalla plants tarragon and fragrant heliotrope together next to her front stoop.
Most often accompanying fish and poultry dishes, you could also try the earthy, licorice taste muddled into cocktails or chopped finely on a fruity summer salad.
For more ideas about how to grow (and eat) herbs, see:
- DIY: Shade-Tolerant Herbs to Grow in Your Apartment.
- Required Reading: The Herbal Apothecary.
- Small Space DIY: Countertop Herb Garden.