Artemisia dracunculus

French Tarragon

French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a frost-hardy perennial with narrow green leaves that have an anise flavour. It grows about 40cm high and wide, and needs to be replanted every few years as the plants lose their vigour over time. Tarragon will thrive in deeply dug, well composted soil in full sun and does well with a deep weekly watering (twice a week in very hot weather). It sends up plumes of delicious branches that can be cut frequently. It will die down in winter and by late winter you should cut any remaining branches back to ground level and then cover the area with compost and water well. Tiny, succulent buds of new growth will soon appear. Now is the time to dig out the edges of the clump, carefully, using a sharp spade, and plant them elsewhere in moist, well composted soil. This ‘early spring root division’ is the sole means of sure propagation. Cuttings taken from the branches during the summer are far more difficult to establish. Use French tarragon leaves with delicately flavoured foods such as eggs, chicken, fish and veal, as well as vegetables, potatoes, stuffed tomatoes, rice dishes and avocado fillings. Tarragon vinegar can be made by steeping the fresh herbs in white wine vinegar, which is then used in salad dressings and marinades. Tarragon’s versatility doesn’t end there, because it can be also be incorporated into butters, hot or cold soups, and mustards.

The Gardener