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University of Illinois Extension
Herb Gardening

French Tarragon

tarragon

Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa

Perennial

Description

French tarragon is a loose, open perennial growing to about two to three feet tall.  Leaves are dark green, narrow and slightly twisted.  Plant will occasionally produce small, greenish flowers that are sterile.  Leaves have a licorice or anise flavor.

Culture

True French tarragon is only available as plants grown from cuttings or root divisions. Because French tarragon produces flowers that are sterile, it cannot be grown from seeds.  Seeds that are sold as tarragon at seed racks or in catalogs are seeds of Russian tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus dracunculoides).  This is a much taller, coarser plant and its culinary use is considered to be inferior because it lacks the odor and flavor characteristics of French tarragon.

French tarragon prefers a full sun location but will tolerate some light shade.  Soils should be well prepared with organic matter and must be well-drained.  Tarragon will not tolerate poorly drained soils especially over the winter as this will lead to plants not overwintering successfully.  Plants benefit from division every 3-4 years to keep the planting vigorous and productive.  Cut back plants in the spring just as growth resumes.  Leaving the tops stand over the winter helps to improve overwintering chances.

Harvesting

Young stem tips and leaves can be harvested as needed throughout the season.  Because the flavor of tarragon is quickly lost if leaves are dried, it is suggested that this herb be used in the fresh form whenever possible for best flavor.  Tarragon is best dried in a cool, dark well-ventilated location and once dried quickly put into sealed containers. 

Uses

Use in vinegars, oils, marinades and salads.

Indoor Culture

Small pots of tarragon can be grown in areas where very bright light is available.  Pot cuttings using a standard potting media.  Keep soils on the dry side.  Plants grown indoors will not be of the same quality as those grown outdoors but small amounts of tarragon can be harvested for fresh use. 

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