What is Tarragon?

Mary Elizabeth

Tarragon is a Eurasian herb in the Aster family, and its name can be pronounced either /TEHR uh gawn/ or /TEHR uh guhn/. The English name derives from the French estragon, which means little dragon. People have speculated that the name refers either to the shape of the twisted roots, or that it had a connection with beasts at one time, being thought to cure the bites and stings of both mad dogs and other venomous creatures.

Tarragon is used as an ingredient in some vinegars.
Tarragon is used as an ingredient in some vinegars.

There are three basic types of this herb: Russian, German or French, and Mexican. The Russian and French tarragons are actually varieties of the same plant: Artemisia dracunculus var. inodora and var. sativa respectively. Mexican tarragon, also known by various other names, such as Mexican Mint Marigold, is Tagetes lucida. The Russian variety is known for being more bitter, while French tarragon is described as sweeter and more anise-like. The French type must be grown from a root: it cannot be grown from seed. Mexican tarragon, with a similar taste to the French, is used in the winter when other types are difficult to come by.

In French cuisine, Bernaise sauce uses the herb tarragon.
In French cuisine, Bernaise sauce uses the herb tarragon.

Some of the best-known uses of tarragon group it with other herbs. Herbes de Provence, a traditional blend of herbs from southern France, does not have a single set recipe, but tarragon is one of the spices often included along with bay leaf, chervil, fennel, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, summer savory, and thyme. Likewise, it is a regular component of fines herbes, a traditional blend of finely chopped fresh herbs, which also includes some combination of herbs such as chervil, chives, dill, lovage, parsley, and thyme. Tarragon may also be added to rémoulade, a mayonnaise-based sauce characterized by the inclusion of capers and chopped gherkin pickles and served with cold meat or fish.

Tarragon’s use is also well-known in vinegar and in béarnaise sauce, a sauce made with egg yolks, butter, vinegar, wine, and shallots and used for eggs, fish, meat, and vegetables. Also, although it is not traditional, this herb may be found in bouquet garni, sprigs of herbs tied in cheesecloth and added to soups or stews as they cook, and which traditionally includes a bay leaf, parsley, thyme.

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Discussion Comments


I'm trying to determine if it's tarragon Giant Food uses in its fresh potato salad. The white one made with sour cream. And bits of green peppers.


In Azerbaijan, sprigs of fresh tarragon are served after the meal. They taste great and really clean out and freshen the mouth.


My favorite drink when I'm in Central Asia is a Tarragon based soda. It usually comes in a green bottle with a picture of a tarragon plant on the front. I've never seen it anywhere else.


Try sprinkling a little in your rice pot. Very nice aroma.


The 1st time I ever tasted tarragon was at my friend's house after work. She made beef and noodles. It was cooked in red wine and seasoned w/tarragon and I suppose she used just the seasoned Ragu or Prego at that time. It was the most delicious beef and noodles! I'd made it before -- even my mom's was not as good! (sorry, mom!) It was the tarragon.

I began using it in other dishes with and without wines (white and red, all depending). I love cooking with this herb and especially love the French tarragon, which I find at my local health food store. Some large groceries also have it as well as fresh markets. For me, it's the best and sweetest tasting.


I just tasted the herb on its own and anyone who states that it doesn't have a licorice flavor has lost their taste buds. Its licorice flavor is delicate and mixed with a slight mint but the black licorice (anise) flavor is there.

Put some dried on your tongue and hold it there - you will certainly taste the flavors I've mentioned.


I sometimes get dried tarragon that doesn't taste like anise or fennel. Actually I prefer this since I don't like the taste of licorice. I always thought of it as "sweet" tarragon, but I read the French/German and Mexican, all of which are strong with anise flavor are considered "sweet." I would like to grow my own. Which type of tarragon should I get? I saw one comment that the Russian Tarragon doesn't have much flavor. Can you help me?


French tarragon has more taste then does Russian tarragon, which is somewhat tasteless. Tarragon spreads easily, similarly to mint. Fresh leaves can be harvested from June to October and used in different chicken and fish dishes. Surplus leaves can be dried and preserved for future use.

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