Tarragon, known as the “king of herbs” in France, is widely used in a flavoring in traditional French cooking and across the globe. Tarragon is rich in vitamins and phytonutrients that may impart health benefits. The herb is available fresh, dried or in capsule form at your local health food store.
Tarragon is a species of perennial herb in the family Asteraceae. One sub-species, Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa, is cultivated for use of the leaves as an aromatic culinary herb. In some other sub-species, the characteristic aroma is largely absent. The species is polymorphic. Informal names for distinguishing the variations include “French tarragon” (best for culinary use), “Russian tarragon” (typically better than wild tarragon but not as good as so-called French tarragon for culinary use), and “wild tarragon” (covers various states).
Tarragon is native to soils that have relatively little water retention. But it is not a desert plant. It is found natively in a number of areas of the Northern Hemisphere. It grows to 120150 cm tall, with slender branched stems. The leaves are lanceolate, 28 cm long and 210 mm broad, glossy green, with an entire margin. The flowers are produced in small capitulae 24 mm diameter, each capitulum containing up to 40 yellow or greenish-yellow florets.
French tarragon, however, seldom produces any flowers (or seeds). Some tarragon plants produce seeds that are generally only sterile. Others produce viable seeds. Tarragon has rhizomatous roots and it readily reproduces from the rhizomes. The name “tarragon” is believed to have been borrowed from the Persian name for tarragon which is tarkhu.
French tarragon is the variety generally considered best for the kitchen, but is never grown from seed as the flowers are sterile, instead it is propagated by root division. 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 can be grown from seed but is much weaker in flavor 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 flavorsome as its French cousin, but it produces many more leaves from early spring onwards that are mild and good in salads and cooked food. Russian tarragon loses what flavor it has as it ages and is widely considered useless as a culinary herb, though it is sometimes used in crafts.
The young stems in early spring can be cooked as an asparagus substitute. Horticulturists recommend that Russian tarragon be grown indoors from seed and planted out in the summer. The spreading plants can be divided easily. A better substitute for French tarragon is Spanish tarragon, also known as Mexican mint marigold, Mexican tarragon, Texas tarragon, or Winter tarragon. The flavor is stronger than Russian tarragon and does not diminish significantly with age. Though it is a member of the marigold family, the flavor is much more reminiscent of French tarragon, with a hint of anise.
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 1001,000 times the typical consumption seen in humans. Estragole concentration in fresh tarragon leaves is about 2900 mg/kg.
Tarragon is one of the four fines herbes of French cooking, and is particularly suitable for chicken, fish and egg dishes. Tarragon is the main flavoring component of Béarnaise sauce. Fresh, lightly bruised sprigs of tarragon are steeped in vinegar to produce tarragon vinegar.
Tarragon is used to flavor a popular carbonated soft drink in the countries of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and, by extension, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The drink, named Tarhun is made out of sugary tarragon concentrate and colored bright green.
In Slovenia, tarragon is used as a spice for a traditional sweet cake called potica. In Hungary a popular kind of chicken soup is flavored with tarragon. Cis-Pellitorin, an isobutyramide eliciting a pungent taste, has been isolated from Tarragon plant.
Dr. Jean Valnet, author of the reference book The Practice of Aromatherapy, recommends to chew a tarragon leaf or to take 3 to 4 drops (adult’s dose) of its essential oil on a lump of sugar to stop hiccup.
Tarragon has a long history of use as a temporary remedy for a toothache. According to SallyBernstein, the pain relieving effect is due to a substance called eugenol that is also found in clove oil. The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension adds that the pain relieving effect of tarragon can also help decrease sore gums that can occur along with a toothache.
Tarragon also appears to have properties that may help increase appetite. A 2010 study published in “Diabetes” found that the constituents of several herbs including tarragon were effective in increasing appetite in laboratory mice. When used as an herb in cooking tarragon is generally considered safe; the research suggests that adding it to food may help people with a poor appetite due to age or illness.
Tarragon is a popular culinary herb that adds flavor to savory dishes. Additionally, “Alternative Medicine” explains that tarragon may help calm an upset stomach caused by stress and improve digestion. The authors recommend using the essential oil of tarragon for calming the digestive system, along with anise seed oil and raw honey. You can find tarragon and anise oils at your local health food store, however, if you have an allergy to these herbs or to honey, avoid this approach.
Tarragon, specifically the Turkish variety appears to have antioxidant properties that can help neutralize the actions of substances known as free radicals. Free radicals, which are the byproduct of metabolism can cause damage to your cells if your body is not able to get rid of them efficiently as waste. As a result, the free radicals remain in your system, causing damage that can lead to certain types of cancer. A 2005 study published in the “Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry” found that tarragon oil worked as an effective free radical scavenger. In addition, the oil was found to have both antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Tarragon being a rich source of Vitamin C helps boost the immune system of the body. It helps prevent strain on the immune system, preventing a variety of infections and ailments.
Tarragon may also be deployed to cure insomnia. It helps relax the nerves and also regulates the circulatory system. It helps cure restlessness and may be used to induce sound sleep.
Tarragon regulates blood circulation, thereby leading to proper distribution of nutrients and oxygen in the body.
Tarragon also helps remove toxins from the body, detoxifying the body. This helps prevent the formation and growth of oncogens or cancer cells, thereby preventing the grave affliction.
Being a detoxifying agent, tarragon helps reduce the pace of aging. It helps prevent visible signs of aging like wrinkles, fine lines, patchy skin and dark spots.
Tarragon is an anti-rheumatic substance which helps prevent and cure rheumatic arthritis by removing toxins from the body and promoting blood circulation in the body, including lymph.
Another health benefit of tarragon is its ability to curb the growth and proliferation of microbes under the skin. This may be attributed to its spicy smell and chemical composition. As such, it may be used as a deodorant.
Tarragon is a potent vermifuge, which helps eradicate round worms and tape worms from the intestines, thereby preventing digestive ailments. It helps prevent the loss of nutrients from the body, thereby maintaining the overall physiology.
Another health benefit of tarragon is its ability to regulate menstrual cycle, and alleviate pre-menstrual symptoms (PMS), serving as a powerful emmenagogue.
Tarragon inhibits the activation of blood platelets, preventing the aggregation and clinging of platelets on the walls of blood vessels, thereby preventing heart attack and stroke.
Tarragon is anti-bacterial in action and as such, it may be applied to external cuts and wounds to prevent septic infections.
Tarragon helps in the formation of blood pigment called hemoglobin and as such, prevents deficiency of red blood cells or anemia.
Tarragon being a rich source of zinc helps in protein synthesis, thereby regulating the formation of cellular structures of the body.
Another vital health benefit of tarragon is its ability to promote the state of the thyroid gland, attributed to its rich copper content. It helps protect the nervous system by preserving the myelin sheaths of nerves.
Being a rich source of calcium, tarragon helps maintain the health of skeletal system by strengthening bones.
Tarragon promotes cholesterol metabolism by promoting the secretion of essential digestion co-factors, attributed to its manganese content. As such, tarragon prevents the susceptibility of arteriosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases.
Tarragon also helps enhance vision, hair and skin texture.
Tarragon should not be consumed during the pregnancy period as some of the chemical components of tarragon like methyl chavicol may adversely affect the health of the mother and the baby. Some of the known tarragon supplements are wormwood, mugwort and sagebrush.
The health benefits of tarragon tea include its ability to relieve depression and anxiety. It also helps relieve fatigue, and induces a feeling of well being.
Tarragon is generally reported to have positive effects on health, with no side effects. However, some people may be allergic to the herb, and as such, refrain from its usage as herb, tea or essential oil.
Tarragon is a rich source of phyto-nutrients, which imparts numerous health benefits.
Some of the chemical substances in the tarragon essential oil are methyl chavicol, ocimene, phellandrene and cineol. Tarragon is also a rich source of certain vital vitamins including Vitamin A, Vitamin B-complex and Vitamin C. Terragon is a rich source of certain essential minerals including zinc, calcium, manganese, iron, magnesium, potassium and copper, among others. Tarragon may be used as tea, dried leaves, fresh leaves, tincture, infusion and essential oil.