The leaves contain vitamin A, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and iron.
Medicinal uses are very limited. The leaves have been used to help stimulate appetite, settle an upset stomach, help promote the menstruation, and as a diuretic. The root has been chewed to help support toothaches.
Tarragon contains an essential oil with up to 70 percent estragole, plus lesser amounts of capillene, ocimene, nerol, thujone, and phellandrine. Tarragon also contains coumarins and the flavonoids - rutin and quercetin.
General Herb Information
There are two varieties of tarragon - A. drancunculus var sativa, French tarragon, and A. drancunculus, Russian tarragon (formerly known as A. redowski.). They are native to southern Europe, Asia, and western North America.
The stems are usually shiny and smooth, though sometimes hairy. The linear to lance-shaped leaves of French tarragon are one to three inches long and of a darker color than Russian tarragon. I have rarely seen it flower. It grows to about three feet tall. Russian tarragon stretches to five feet tall, and its leaves may be as long as six inches. It has tiny (one-eighth-inch diameter) greenish-white flowers blooming in loose clusters in June or July. Both varieties spread by creeping rhizomes. Russian tarragon does not have the fine flavor of French tarragon so often appreciated by French chefs.
Tarragon is best propagated by carefully dividing the roots in spring and transplanting one-inch sections of root tips. Tarragon can also be propagated by summer cuttings which take about eight weeks to root. French tarragon, the flavorful clone cherished by herb gardeners, must be propagated asexually. If you buy tarragon seed, you are getting Russian tarragon. Seeds germinate in about twenty days. Give plants one- to two-foot spacings.
A moderately rich, well-drained soil with a pH range from 6.2 to 7.8 is suitable for tarragon. Optimum pH range should fall between 6.2 to 6.5. Plant under full sun. It's a relatively hardy plant if soil drainage is good, but if the roots sit in water, plants will invariably winterkill. Where temperatures dip below 0°F, mulch well after the ground freezes. Tarragon does best in areas where it has a period of winter dormancy.
Like basil, tarragon leaves bruise easily and must be handled with care during the harvest and drying process. Harvest should occur in late June.
Tarragon has one of the finest flavors of any culinary herb. It is good with chicken, fish, salad dressings, salads, and all vegetables - especially asparagus. Use the leaves to season chicken livers and roast duck for an unusual delicacy.
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