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Tarragon or dragon's-wort (Artemisia dracunculus L.) is a perennial herb in the family Asteraceae related to wormwood. Corresponding to its species name, a common term for the plant is "dragon herb." It is native to a wide area of the Northern Hemispheremarker from easternmost Europe across central and eastern Asia to Indiamarker, western North America, and south to northern Mexicomarker. The North American populations may however be naturalised from early human introduction.

Tarragon grows to 120-150 cm tall, with slender branched stems. The leaves are lanceolate, 2-8 cm long and 2-10 mm broad, glossy green, with an entire margin. The flowers are produced in small capitulae 2-4 mm diameter, each capitulum containing up to 40 yellow or greenish-yellow florets. (French tarragon, however, seldom produces flowers.)

Cultivation

Dried tarragon leaves


French tarragon is the variety generally considered best for the kitchen, but cannot be grown from seed . It is normally purchased as a plant, and some care must be taken to ensure that true French tarragon is purchased . A perennial, it normally goes dormant in winter. It likes a hot, sunny spot, without excessive watering.

Russian tarragon (A. dracunculoides L.) can be grown from seed but is much weaker in flavour when compared to the French variety. However, Russian tarragon is a far more hardy and vigorous plant, spreading at the roots and growing over a meter tall. This tarragon actually prefers poor soils and happily tolerates drought and neglect. It is not as strongly aromatic and flavoursome as its French cousin, but it produces many more leaves from early spring onwards that are mild and good in salads and cooked food. The young stems in early spring can be cooked as an asparagus substitute. Grow indoors from seed and plant out in the summer. Spreading plant can be divided easily.

Health

Tarragon has an aromatic property reminiscent of anise, due to the presence of estragole, a known carcinogen and teratogen in mice. The European Union investigation revealed that the danger of estragole is minimal even at 100-1000 times the typical consumption seen in humans.

Usage

Culinary use

Tarragon is one of the four fines herbes of French cooking, and particularly suitable for chicken, lasagna, fish and egg dishes. Tarragon is one of the main components of Béarnaise sauce. Fresh, lightly bruised sprigs of tarragon may be steeped in vinegar to impart their flavor.

Tarragon is used to flavor a popular carbonated soft drink in the countries of Armeniamarker, Georgiamarker and, by extension, Russiamarker and Ukrainemarker. The drink—named Tarhun ( , ; ), which is the Armenian, Persian and Russian word for tarragon—is made out of sugary tarragon concentrate and colored bright green.

Cis-Pellitorin, an isobutylamide eliciting a pungent taste, has been isolated from Tarragon plant.

In Sloveniamarker, tarragon is used as a spice for sweet pastry called potica.

Etymology

The plant's common name and Latin name originate from the belief in the Doctrine of Signatures which suggested that a plant's appearance reflected its possible uses. The serpentine shape of Tarragon's root made herbalists believe it could cure snake bites. From this came the Greek name drakon (dragon), the Arabic tarkhum (little dragon), and the Latin name dracunculus (little dragon).

References

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