Tarragon is a popular herb in cooking. In fact, tarragon is such a vital part of French cuisine that it is one of the “Fines Herbes.” These are the four most commonly used herbs in French cuisine, which also includes parsley, chervil and chives. Tarragon is known for its slightly bittersweet flavor, with an aroma similar to anise.
Artemisia, tarragon’s genus, comes from the Greek goddess Artemis (of the moon), known as Diana by the Romans, who was said to have given tarragon and other artemisias to Chiron, the centaur. Other tarragon histories compare the colorization of tarragon leaves to the moon.
Tarragon is thought to be a native of Siberia and Mongolia. The word tarragon additionally has ties to the French, Herbe au Dragon and references to “a little dragon”. Much of this association with dragons comes from the serpentine shape of the herb’s roots. As with the other Dragon herbs, tarragon is believed to cure the bites and stings of venomous beasts and mad dogs.
- Pain Relief – In traditional folk medicine, tarragon has been used to treat pain for a long time. Chewing the leaves can help relieve pain, especially in the mouth. You can consume tarragon tea to get the same benefit. Cytokines are proteins that can play a role in inflammation. One study in mice found a significant decrease in cytokines after tarragon extract consumption for 21 days. One 12-week study looked at the effectiveness of a dietary supplement called Arthrem – which contains a tarragon extract – and its effect on pain and stiffness in 42 people with osteoarthritis. Individuals who took 150 mg of Arthrem twice per day saw significant improvement in symptoms, compared to those taking 300 mg twice per day and the placebo group.
- Induce Sleep – Drinking tarragon tea can help those with insomnia. The calming effect of the herb’s compounds can help you rest well at night. In one study in mice, Artemisia plants appeared to provide a sedative effect and help regulate sleep patterns.
- Increase Appetite – If you’re having trouble getting your appetite up, try consuming tarragon. It’s been reported to have stimulating properties for your stomach. Loss of appetite can occur for various reasons, such as age, depression or chemotherapy. If left untreated, it can lead to malnutrition and a decreased quality of life. An imbalance in the hormones ghrelin and leptin may also cause a decrease in appetite. These hormones are important for energy balance. Ghrelin is considered a hunger hormone, while leptin is referred to as a satiety hormone. When ghrelin levels rise, it induces hunger. Conversely, rising leptin levels cause a feeling of fullness.
- Promote Reproductive Health in Females – Tarragon can help maintain a healthy female reproductive tract, and may also help women deal with suppressed menstruation.
- Improve Intestinal Function – Tarragon is a vermifuge, meaning it can help expel parasitic worms from the intestines. As a result, this lowers your risk of developing intestinal ailments and malabsorption.
- Improve insulin sensitivity – One seven-day study in animals with diabetes found that tarragon extract lowered blood glucose concentrations by 20%, compared to a placebo. A 90-day, randomized, double-blind study looked at the effect of tarragon on insulin sensitivity, insulin secretion and glycemic control in 24 people with impaired glucose tolerance. Those who received 1,000 mg of tarragon before breakfast and dinner experienced an ample decrease in total insulin secretion, which can help keep blood sugar levels balanced throughout the day.
- Cardiovascular Health – Your heart and arteries can benefit from tarragon greatly, because it acts as an inhibitor of platelet aggregation. As a result, the risk of developing a heart attack or a stroke is potentially lower.
Tarragon is low in calories and carbs and contains many nutrients. Just one tablespoon of dried tarragon provides:
- Calories: 5
- Carbs: 1 gram
- Manganese: 7% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
- Iron: 3% of the RDI
- Potassium: 2% of the RDI
Manganese is an essential nutrient that plays a role in brain health, growth, metabolism and the reduction of oxidative stress in your body.
How to Buy
Tarragon comes in three different varieties – French, Russian and Spanish:
- French tarragon is most widely known and best for culinary purposes.
- Russian tarragon is weaker in flavor compared to French tarragon. It loses its flavor quickly with age, so it’s best to use it right away. It produces more leaves, which make a great addition to salads.
- Spanish tarragon has more flavor compared to Russian tarragon but less than French tarragon. It can be used for medicinal purposes and brewed as tea.
Fresh tarragon is typically only available in the spring and summer in cooler climates.
How to Store
To store, wrap a bunch of leaves in a damp paper towel and place it the refrigerator. You can also put the leaves in a jar filled with water. It’s important that the leaves are not dried, because they will lose their flavor and nutrients.
Fresh tarragon will typically last in the fridge for four to five days. Once the leaves begin to turn brown, toss it into a stir-fry or make a pesto sauce.
Dried tarragon can last in an airtight container in a cool, dark environment for up to four to six months.
How to Cook
The pungent, bittersweet flavor of tarragon is often compared to licorice, anise, and fennel, thanks to the presence of methyl chavicol, a naturally occurring compound found in many plants and trees with a distinct licorice-like taste and fragrance. Tarragon pairs particularly well with acidic flavors like lemon and vinegar, and is commonly combined with vinegar to make salad dressings and marinades.
- Use it into sauces, such as pesto or aioli.
- Mix it with olive oil and drizzle the mix on top of roasted vegetables.
Although best known for its use in French cooking, tarragon is also used around the world in a variety of traditional dishes.
- In Slovenia, tarragon is used in a sweet nut roll cake known as potica.
- In Persian cuisine, tarragon is part of the sabzi knordan, a platter of vegetables and herbs that is traditionally served with meals.
- In Armenia and Eastern European countries like Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine, the herb is consumed via a popular bright green carbonated drink called Tarkhuna, which is made with sweet tarragon concentrate.