A distinction must be made between the true French tarragon or estragon and its Russian counterpart, A. dracunculoides, which is much coarser, and has paler leaves and a bitter taste. Contrarily the latter is easier to grow! French tarragon has a subtle flavor and is one of the four ingredients of the fines herbes mixture.
The plant, a hardy perennial, originates from southern Europe. The reference in its name to a "little dragon" is thought to derive from its folkioric reputation of supporting the pain from bites of snakes, serpents, and the like.
The plant grows to a height of 36 inches, with a spread of up to 18 inches. The leaves are dark green, long slender, and pointed, about 3 inches long toward the base of the plant and considerably smaller at the tip of the stems. The flowers are lime green and formed in loose clusters. But the plant neither flowers nor sets seed in a cool climate.
You can grow French tarragon by planting a piece of the rhizome, complete with buds, in spring, or by taking cuttings of young shoots in summer and growing them under a cloche. The plant likes good, well-drained soil, and a sunny, sheltered position.
How to Use
Tarragon has a strong and distinctive flavor, and must be used sparingly, especially as it is usually associated with delicate dishes such as chicken, white fish, creamy sauces, and egg and cheese recipes. Fresh sprigs of the herb can be used to flavor vinegar for use in salad dressings and sauces.
The wonderfully aniseed smell of the essential oil of tarragon is very soothing and when applied, a few drops in a base oil, it is an effective massage for easing pre-menstrual discomforts. It can also be tried to perfume soaps and bath oils. The dried herb can be powdered and added to soap balls.
Health-wise,the herb can be used to help support toothache and to help stimulate the appetite but its health use has fallen off in modern times in favor of its culinary applications.
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Hot tea brewing method: Bring freshly drawn cold water to a rolling boil. Place 1 tea bag for each cup into the teapot. Pour the boiling water into the pot, cover and let steep for 2-4 minutes. Pour into your cup; add milk and natural sweetener to taste.
Iced tea brewing method: (to make 1 liter/quart): Place 5 tea bags into a teapot or heat resistant pitcher. Pour 1 1/4 cups of freshly boiled water over the tea itself. Steep for 5 minutes. Quarter fill a serving pitcher with cold water. Pour the tea into the serving pitcher straining the tea bags. Add ice and top-up with cold water. Garnish and sweeten to taste.
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