Family: Asteraceae (Compositae), Artemisia dracunculus L.

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus, L. var. sativa, is an aromatic, perennial herb native to southern Europe Asia. Also known as French tarragon or estragon and formerly classified as Artemisia redowskii Ledeb., this species is prized for its fragrant leaves. Reaching a height of 0.7 to 1.2 meters, the plant is characterized by thin, erect stems, delicate, narrow, green leaves, greenish-white flowers, and rhizomatous growth. The plant is cultivated extensively in southern Europe, the United States, and several other countries.

The reported life zone of tarragon is 7 to 17°C with an annual precipitation of 0.3 to 1.3 meters and a soil pH of 4.9 to 7.8 (4.1-31). Tarragon grows best in warm, sunny location on dry soils with good drainage. The plant is intolerant of standing water or poorly drained soils.

Tarragon plantings, established from vegetative or root cuttings because the plant rarely produces seed, last about three years before needing to be reestablished (14.1-10). Generally, a midseason and an early autumn harvest can be made each year. Mulching is used to protect plant roots through winter in cold climates. Foliage must be carefully dried in partial shade, with good air circulation and temperature control, to maximize retention of flavor and green color of leaves.

The essential oil of tarragon, known as estragon oil, contains methylchavicol (estragole), -pinene, camphene, ocimene, sabinene, myrcene, menthol, p-methoxycinnamaldehyde, limonene, eugenol, anisole, and other compounds (1.2-35, 14.1-10, 14.1-32). Oil content of fresh tissue is generally 0.25 to 2.4%. An oleoresin of tarragon is also commercially available.

The anise-flavored leaves and flowering tops are used to season salads, sauces, soups, stews, eggs, meat, fish, and pickles. Leaves or essential oil are also used in the manufacture of tarragon vinegar, mustard, tartar sauce, and liqueurs. Tarragon may act as an antioxidant in some foods (6.4-104) and is a component of some perfumes, soaps, and other cosmetics.

As a medicinal plant, tarragon has been traditionally considered a diuretic, emmenagogue, and stomachic. The root of tarragon was a folk remedy for curing toothaches (11.1-50). The volatile oil of tarragon is reported to have antifungal activity (11.1-126).

Russian tarragon, a separate cultivar, is often confused with and sold as French tarragon. Except for being taller, the Russian tarragon looks similar to French tarragon but is considered far inferior to French tarragon in taste. Russian tarragon is usually propagated by seeds and is more winter hardy than French tarragon.

Tarragon is generally recognized as safe for human consumption as a natural seasoning/ flavoring and as a plant extract or essential oil (21 CFR sections 182.10, 182.20, [1982]).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997