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!
Mexican Tarragon, also called Mexican Mint Marigold, is a perennial plant grown as an annual in parts of the country that experience cooler weather. This variety of tarragon produces beautiful yellow flowers in the fall, which are edible. Mexican Tarragon can grow quite tall—up to 3′ in height—and produce green leaves approximately 2–3″ in length.
Seed Depth: Press into surface.
Space Between Plants: 1.5–2′
Space Between Rows: 1–1.5′
Germination Soil Temperature: 65–75°F
Days for Germination: 5–7
Sow Indoors: 4 to 6 weeks prior to the average last frost date.
Sow Outdoors: After all risk of frost has passed.
Vegetative: To grow this variety of tarragon via cuttings, simply cut a piece of stem 6–8″ in length and remove all leaves from the bottom third. Place cuttings in a soilless mix. Use a rooting hormone if desired by dipping the trimmed end in water and then rooting hormone before planting.
Mexican Tarragon can withstand much higher levels of heat than other varieties of tarragon and will grow as a perennial in the warmer, drier regions of the US. If living in Zones 8 or below, consider planting in a container and moving indoors during the winter, as hard frosts can kill this plant.
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 and 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.
Uses: If you end up having more of this plant than you can use in the kitchen, some sources recommend using Mexican Tarragon as the ancient Aztecs did: dry the flowers and burn them as an incense in the house or as a pest deterrent outdoors.
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: This variety is an excellent alternative to the more popular French variety. Although a bit stronger in flavor, Mexican Tarragon still possesses the sweet, anise flavor that makes tarragon so popular in French cuisine. Add this herb to dressings, soups, and sauces and as a seasoning for meat. Mexican Tarragon loses its flavor as it is cooked, so if using in a hot dish, add towards the end.
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.
For an exquisite summer treat, try these blackberry and Mexican Tarragon fruit pops!