Home herb gardeners are growing tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) to accompany many egg, fish and poultry dishes. Its delightful licorice-like flavor is also used to infuse white wine vinegar and works well when added to sauces, soups and salad dressings. Leaves can be used dried or frozen, but the fresh herb is best for aroma and flavor.
A member of the daisy family, French tarragon is an attractive herb with narrow green leaves and delicate gray-green flowers. Plants add a soft, pleasant texture to garden borders and grow very well indoors in pots. Tarragon is also a good companion for eggplant, but will benefit most other vegetable crops.
Like many classic herbs, tarragon is super-sized with health benefits, which include vitamins, mineral and antioxidants. Aromatic perennials — 12 to 24 inches tall — are half-hardy, drought tolerant and often require winter protection.
Fun Fact: Tarragon reportedly aids in digestion, and when made as a tonic is said to soothe rheumatism, arthritis and toothaches.
Botanical Name: Artemisia dracunculus (Sativa subspecies)
Common Name: Tarragon, estragon
Plant Type: Perennial herb
Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type: Sandy, well-drained
Soil pH: 6.5 to 7.5 (Neutral)
Maturity: 40-60 days from transplant
Height: 12 to 24 inches
Spacing: 18 to 24 inches apart
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Harvesting Tarragon
- For true flavor, choose French tarragon
- Starts, not seeds, offer best results
- Plant outside after all danger of frost; prefers full sun to part shade and compost-amended soil
- Harvest fresh leaves 6-8 weeks after transplanting
- Typically free of diseases and pests, but water carefully to prevent mildew and root rot
Tarragon Plant Care
Tarragon is a culinary herb with glossy, skinny leaves and an aromatic flavor. It’s easy to grow, hardy, and even drought-resistant. The French variety is the most commonly used in cooking.
It is widely used in French cuisine because of its ability to impart a fresh, spring taste and an air of sophistication to dishes like salad dressings, sauces, and fish and chicken.
In cooler climates, fresh tarragon is typically only available in the spring and summer. You may only be able to find it in large chain grocery stores or farmers markets because it is not as widely available as other herbs like cilantro.
You might also see it in the spring and early summer at your local farmers market. It’s always best to grow your own herbs to have access to them whenever you’d like and get the most fresh flavor and aroma.
Since the flowers of French Tarragon are sterile, you can’t grow it from seed in your garden. You’ll need to purchase a young plant or ask a friend or neighbor for a cutting.
The best time to plant tarragon is in the early spring, and in hot climates you should avoid placing it in direct sunlight for long periods of time. You must also choose a sandy, well-draining soil.
Unlike many other herbs, tarragon dislikes direct sunlight in hot climates. Full sun is acceptable if you live in a temperate climate; otherwise, choose a location that receives only dappled or early morning sunlight. This plant thrives in warm temperatures rather than scorching heat.
The conditions that are too wet are not favorable for tarragon. This herb can survive periods of drought but does best when grown in a soil that is light, sandy, and well-drained.
If the soil is rich, acidic, and moist, the plant will not grow well, the roots will rot, and the flavor will be diminished.
In order to determine how often and how much to water your Tarragon, you must first consider the plant’s maturity level and the weather conditions.
If you have been experiencing hot, dry weather for an extended period of time, watering your young Tarragon plants every other day will help them thrive. Watering lightly once every few days should be sufficient for mature Tarragon.
Before you start watering, make sure you check the top inch of the soil. If it is moist, there is no need to water it but water your tarragon plant if you find that it is dry. if it is dry, water it.
Although these plants can tolerate dry soil, it’s important to avoid overwatering as this will reduce growth and flavor intensity.
Even though tarragon can survive without much water, too much dryness can stunt the growth of the leaves.
Temperature and Humidity
Temperature is not a big deal for this hardy plant. Even if a cold spell hits, it will continue to grow. However tarragon does not fare well in conditions of high heat and sun, as well as high humidity.
When the plant dies back for the winter and enters dormancy, the roots can be protected from extreme cold by applying mulch around the plant.
Fertilizer is not required for tarragon to thrive. Planting it in low-nutrient soil yields the best flavor. Only during the initial planting phase is it appropriate to use an all-purpose variety.
Types of Tarragon
There are three main varieties of tarragon that are available:
French tarragon: This is the best variety for culinary purposes and is also the most widely known one.
Russian tarragon: This variety has a weaker flavor compared to French tarragon. It is best to use it as soon as possible because it quickly loses flavor with age. It makes more leaves, which are delicious in salads.
Spanish tarragon: The flavor of Spanish tarragon is stronger than that of Russian tarragon but weaker than that of French tarragon. It’s used to brew tea and can be used for medicinal purposes as well.
What Does Tarragon Taste Like?
Depending on whether they prefer the flavor of licorice, people have a tendency to either love or hate tarragon. But this herb tastes like more than just anise because it has a complex flavor.
It has hints of vanilla, mint, pepper, and eucalyptus, which makes it different from other foods that taste like licorice, such as fennel.
The French variety, on the other hand, is mild and brings together these different flavors to make a subtle and sophisticated herb.
How to Use Tarragon in Cooking
Tarragon is widely used in many French dishes and is often referred to as ‘the king of herbs’ on France because it has the ability to elevate a dish thanks to its fresh, spring flavor.
It’s one of the four herbs in the French mixture of fines herbes, which is a combination of parsley, chervil, tarragon, and chives, and forms a mainstay in French cuisine.
You can use it in many dishes including chicken, fish, egg dishes, stews, salad dressings, sauces such as Béarnaise sauce, and even in cheese. It can be used both fresh and dry, and will add a delicious delicate taste that’ll cook most dishes.
If using fresh tarragon, use it raw or add it at the very end of cooking because its flavor turns bitter if cooked for too long. Dried tarragon is used early in recipes, but it does not have the same effect as fresh because of its diminished flavor.
Cooks can use fresh tarragon in a variety of ways, including in salads, sauces, and even chicken and potato salads. It’s perfect for using as a garnish or snipping into a green salad. Tarragon is also an excellent herb for flavoring vinegar.
You can incorporate it into different kinds of sauces, such as pesto or aioli. It can be added to salmon and tuna. Combine it with olive oil and drizzle it over roasted vegetables.
How to Plant and Grow Tarragon
French tarragon requires full sun to partial shade, rich, well-drained soil and regular watering. The plant often fails due to soil that is too wet or too acidic. It can be grown outdoors in a sunny garden plot or indoors in window containers that offer good drainage. Learn all about container gardening here.
How to Plant Tarragon
New plants must be produced from rooted cuttings or purchased as nursery stock from your local garden store. French tarragon is NOT grown from seed.
Make sure you purchase plants labeled “French tarragon” to ensure you get the best variety for cooking. Russian varieties, which can be grown from seed are available, but they are weedy and lack the necessary essential oils and intense flavor.
Plant outside after all danger from frost has passed. Plants will die back to the root over winter, returning in spring. Space 2-3 feet between plants and mulch well with compost or well-rotted animal manure.
You should have good success propagating the plant if you can get a stem cutting from an existing plant in late spring or early summer.
For the best results, choose a young stem and cut it to about 5 or 6 inches long. Take off the bottom third’s leaves. After the stem has been dipped in rooting hormone, it can be placed in moist potting soil.
Root division techniques can also be used. Late fall or early spring are the ideal times to do this. The root ball could be divided in half and each half replanted in fresh soil, either in containers or in the ground.
Due to its short lifespan as a perennial, tarragon should be divided every three years to keep it producing for your garden.
Read our article about planting and propagating herbs here for more details on how to propagate tarragon.
Harvesting and Storage
Harvest tarragon 6-8 weeks after transplanting outside. Handle plants with care as they bruise easily and pick in the morning after the dew has dried for best flavor.
Leaves are best used fresh but can be stored dry or frozen in True Liberty® Turkey Bags. These unique bags preserve herb harvests, with all the aroma and flavor locked right in.
You can also put the stems of tarragon in a small glass of water and leave them on the counter for about a week. It’s best to refrigerate the herb for extended storage.
Fresh tarragon can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks if it is rinsed, patted dry, wrapped in a damp paper towel, and stored in an airtight container. Fresh tarragon can also be frozen for up to five months.
To dry herbs, tie cuttings in small bunches and hang upside down in a well-ventilated, dark room. When completely dry, remove the leaves from all stems and keep whole in airtight jars for storage. The leaves will brown slightly during this process (watch our video How to Dry Herbs here). Crush or grind just before use.
If kept in an airtight container and kept in a cool, dark place, dried tarragon will last up to a year.
Note: Fresh tarragon can be preserved in white vinegar which will keep the flavor better than drying.
Seed Saving Instructions
True tarragon produces no seeds. Divide mature plants in the spring or root tip cuttings anytime during the gardening season.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases for Tarragon
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 prevent these fungal problems, plant in areas that provide good air circulation and water on bright sunny mornings to allow the leaves to dry by evening.
Eric Vinje founded Planet Natural with his father Wayne in 1991, originally running it as a grasshopper bait mail-order business out of a garage.
Eric is now retired, but is still a renowned gardener known for his expertise in composting, organic gardening and pest control, utilizing pesticide-free options, such as beneficial insects.
Eric believes when you do something good for the environment, the effects will benefit generations to come.