Tarragon or dragon's-wort (Artemisia dracunculus) is a perennial herb in the family Asteraceae related to wormwood. Corresponding to its species name, a common term for the plant is "dragon herb." It is native to a wide area of the Northern Hemisphere from easternmost Europe across central and eastern Asia to India, western North America, and south to northern Mexico. The North American populations may, however, be naturalised from early human introduction.
Tarragon grows to 120–150 cm tall, with slender branched stems. The leaves are lanceolate, 2–8 cm long and 2–10 mm broad, glossy green, with an entire margin. The flowers are produced in small capitulae 2–4 mm diameter, each capitulum containing up to 40 yellow or greenish-yellow florets. (French tarragon, however, seldom produces flowers.)
French tarragon is the variety generally considered best for the kitchen, but is difficult to grow from seed. It is best to cultivate 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 (A. dracunculoides L.) 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. The young stems in early spring can be cooked as an asparagus substitute. Grow indoors from seed and plant out in the summer. Spreading plant can be divided easily.
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 100-1,000 times the typical consumption seen in humans.
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