Growing Tarragon

TarragonA member of the daisy family, Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is the classic herb to accompany fish and poultry dishes. The long, narrow leaves, borne on upright stalks, are a shiny, dark green. Greenish or gray flowers may bloom in the fall. Aromatic plants grow 2-3 feet tall and tend to sprawl out later in the season. Perennial.

Note: Tarragon reportedly aids in digestion and when made as a tonic is said to soothe rheumatism, arthritis, and toothaches.

Site Preparation:

Growing tarragon requires full sun to partial shade and rich, sandy, well drained soil. The plant often fails due to soil that is too wet or acidic. It can be grown outside in gardens or in containers with good drainage in the greenhouse or on a windowsill.

How to Plant:

To get the right tarragon for cooking, buy nursery plants marked “French tarragon.” Russian tarragon, which can be grown from seed, is weedy and lacks the essential oils. Plants are a little fussy to grow, so purchase three starts to ensure success. Plant each in a different location after all danger from frost has passed. It will die back to the root in the winter, returning in spring. Space 2 feet between plants and mulch well with compost.

Harvesting:

Begin harvesting leaves 6-8 weeks after transplanting outside. Handle plants gently as they bruise easily and harvest in the morning after the dew has dried for best flavor. Tarragon is best used fresh but can be stored dry or frozen in plastic bags. To dry, tie the cuttings in small bunches and hang upside down in a well-ventilated, dark room. When completely dry, remove the leaves from the stems and keep whole for storage. The leaves will brown slightly during the process. Crush or grind just before use. Fresh tarragon can also be preserved in white vinegar, which actually keeps the flavor better than drying.

Insects and Disease:

Tarragon is not bothered by many insect pests but is susceptible to plant diseases, such as downy mildew, powdery mildew and rhizoctonia (root rot). To help prevent these problems, plant in areas that provide good air circulation and water on bright sunny mornings, to allow the leaves to dry by evening.

Seed Saving Instructions:

True tarragon produces no seeds. Divide mature plants in the spring or root tip cuttings anytime during the growing season.

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