A lovely plant with subtle flavor and beautiful green leaves, tarragon is a tasteful addition to your household garden. Within the category of tarragon are three main varieties: French, Mexican, and Russian, which vary in flavor and reputation. French and Mexican are commonly thought to be the “true” varieties of this plant, while Russian tarragon is often thought of as a more bitter imposter. Why not try growing all three and see if it’s true!
French Tarragon is a perennial herb whose slender leaves are used to add a subtle licorice flavor to a variety of dishes and condiments. The French Tarragon variety rarely produces flowers or seeds, so it must be grown from cuttings. It’s also the best type of tarragon for cooking because it has the most prominent flavor. Reaching heights of around 2′, it will not spread underground like some herbs. French Tarragon is slightly less hardy than other varieties but can survive winters down to USDA Zone 4, particularly if well-mulched.
Seed: French Tarragon rarely or never produces seed.
Vegetative: Commonly propagated by taking stem cuttings, started in either spring or fall. You can also divide the roots of mature plants or use layering techniques.
Space Between Plants: 12–24″
Space Between Rows: 24–36″
Germination Soil Temperature: 50–80°F for rooting cuttings.
Days for Germination: 14–24 for rooting cuttings.
Sow Indoors: Root cuttings indoors in a glass of water or soilless media in spring or fall.
Sow Outdoors: Transplant cuttings outdoors in spring or early summer. In areas with mild winters, you can also transplant in the late summer or fall.
Tarragon prefers a mild climate with lots of sun and moderate summers. It will tolerate light frosts, but in climates where winter temperatures frequently drop below freezing, grow as an annual, plant in a greenhouse (or container that you can bring inside), or mulch the roots well. Expect your plant to go dormant for the duration of winter and sprout again in spring.
Natural: Full sun. Prefers partial afternoon shade in warm weather.
Artificial: Will grow well indoors under full-spectrum lamps, but expect a period of winter dormancy.
Soil: Prefers a well-drained loamy or sandy soil with a high amount of organic matter, but it’s an adaptable plant and will also grow in poor soil. A pH of between 6.0 and 7.5 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Root cuttings in a sterile soilless mix, perlite, sand, or vermiculite. Container plants can also be grown in a soilless mix.
Hydroponics: Thrives in a variety of hydroponic systems including slab, NFT, or a continuous flow media-based system. Use perlite as your medium for its good drainage properties.
Aeroponics: Thrives in aeroponic systems.
Water: Requires low to moderate levels of water. Once established, plants are drought tolerant and watering can be decreased.
Nutrients: Requires low levels of nutrients. Increased nitrogen and organic matter will allow quicker growth.
Foliar: Will benefit from foliar feedings of compost tea or liquid seaweed applied 2 or 3 times during the growing season.
Pruning: Plants will often go dormant for the winter regardless of care, but if you cut back the dead tops and wait until spring, it’s likely that your tarragon will grow back from the roots. Every 3 or 4 years, mature plants should be dug up and divided or replaced to prevent roots from getting overcrowded.
Mulching: Use a thick layer of organic mulch, like straw or woodchips, to protect the roots of plants growing outdoors during the winter in areas that are susceptible to frost.
Companions: As a natural pest deterrent, tarragon will benefit most garden plants, especially eggplant.
Harvest: Pick stems as needed throughout the warm growing season, but don’t take more than 1/3 of the plant at a time. Pick lightly from plants in their first year to allow their roots to get established. For best results, harvest before flowers start to appear. Regular harvests will encourage new growth and branching.
Storage: Dry leaves should be kept in an airtight container and used within 3 months, or they will lose much of their flavor.
Variety Notes: If you find tarragon seeds in a store, they are most likely from the less flavorful Russian Tarragon, which won’t live up to the taste you’d except.
Preserve: Leaves can be dried or frozen in water or oil for later use. Dry leaves in a cool place, or the flavor-creating essential oils will be lost. You can also steep fresh leaves in vinegar to create a tasty herb infused vinegar. It can also be used as a flavoring when pickling other vegetables.
Prepare: Tarragon’s flavor is described as more subtle than many other culinary herbs, with a taste reminiscent of licorice or anise. It’s used as one of the main four ‘fines herbes’ in French cuisine, which also include fresh parsley, chives, and chervil. Tarragon vinegar can be used in salads. There is a sugary, carbonated, tarragon-flavored soft drink that is sold in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. Fresh leaves are the best, but you’ll want to have some dried ones ready for winter cooking.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin(s) A, C, and B.
Medicinal: Considered a diuretic, antifungal, and antibacterial, tarragon has also been reported to improve stomach functioning, increase appetite, and induce menstruation.
Warnings: Unless you eat 1,000 times more tarragon than the average consumer, there’s no need to worry, but tarragon does contain estragole, a known carcinogen in mice.
Use some of your homegrown fresh tarragon leaves in this potato salad recipe.