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Herb Garden
Published November 28, 2022 by Nicole Burke

How to Grow Tarragon in an Organic Herb Garden

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Grow Your Own Tarragon Herb

Tarragon, also called estragon, is an herb that produces aromatic leaves with a potent flavor—so potent, in fact, that it's known as the "king of all herbs" in France.

I've always had trouble finding fresh tarragon leaves in stores, and you'll likely need to grow your own to experience this rich flavor. Fortunately, tarragon is a pretty easy herb to grow at home!

The Classic Tarragon Taste

This herb is well known for its leaves having a pretty powerful flavor of licorice and anise, followed by a minty, peppery taste. Too much, and it can easily overwhelm a dish. Tarragon is often used in the place of star anise and fennel seeds (all three herbs share an organic compound called estragole).

Tarragon is included in many dishes around the world and is one of the herbs often found inside bouquet garni and Herbes de Provence, alongside thyme, basil, rosemary, savory, marjoram, oregano, and bay leaf.

tarragon flavor

Let's Get to Know the 3 Tarragon Varieties

Tarragon belongs to the Aster family, along with flowering herbs like echinacea and marigolds. There are actually three different types of tarragon to choose from.

French Tarragon

French tarragon is the variety with the licorice-like flavor that you probably associate with tarragon. Originally from Asia, this herb has been incorporated heavily into French cuisine.

This type has a strong floral scent that it can retain if cooked for a short period of time, especially if dried. It's used to flavor a variety of dishes, including salads, stews, soups, and desserts.

While this is the most popular tarragon for culinary purposes, it may not be the best choice for your garden. This herb is extremely picky when it comes to temperature preferences, preferring a mild spring, a warm and dry summer, and a cold winter. It cannot handle heat or humidity at all. Gardeners outside of Europe struggle to keep this variety happy.

Russian Tarragon

This type is hardier than its French counterpart, growing in areas too cold for French tarragon. Unfortunately, the leaves don't have a strong scent, and the flavor is more bitter. This type is not considered worth much for culinary purposes, though it's often used to flavor drinks.

Mexican Tarragon

Mexican tarragon, with its golden-yellow flowers, is actually closer to a marigold than a true tarragon, thus its other name, Mexican mint marigold. If you live somewhere hot and humid, then you'll want to grow this heat-resistant plant. It's the best substitute for French tarragon you can grow at home thanks to its similar scent and licorice flavor.

This herb doesn't require much care—it's overall way less fussy than French tarragon, though it does require lots of sunlight and humidity.

tarragon leaves

Here's Why You Can't Find French Tarragon Seeds for Sale

Like African blue basil, French tarragon produces sterile flowers. That means you can't grow French tarragon from seeds. Tarragon plants for sale at nurseries are clones created by rooting cuttings or dividing existing plants. (If you'd like to grow a tarragon herb from seed, I recommend Mexican tarragon.)

The best way to source a French tarragon plant for your herb garden is to take a cutting from a friend, divide an established plant, or buy a young plant.

How to Root a French Tarragon Cutting

It's easy to make some herb magic and propagate an established tarragon plant by cutting. The best time to take a cutting is late spring or early summer.

With a clean pair of scissors, cut a young stem that's about 5 or 6 inches long at its base. Pull off the bottom leaves from the stem. Dip the stem in rooting hormone or cinnamon, and place the stem in moistened potting soil.

How to Divide a French Tarragon Herb

In late fall or early spring, cut the root ball of an established tarragon plant in half using a shovel. Discard older, woodier roots. Replant one half of the smaller, younger roots and take the other half as a transplant. Divide your tarragon every couple of years to maintain plant health and prolong this herb's time in your garden.

Is Tarragon a Perennial?

Tarragon is a perennial herb in zone 4 and warmer that often lasts 3 to 4 years. Mexican tarragon is a perennial in zones 8 to 11. Plants will die back in the winter and then send up new growth in the spring.

Tarragon Growing Guide

How to Grow Tarragon

Grow tarragon under its preferred conditions for lots of leafy harvests. Give tarragon about 12 inches of space to bush out. Plants can grow 2 to 3 feet tall.

Sunlight

Tarragon thrives with lots of sun, though it can handle partial shade. If you're growing French tarragon in a hotter climate, avoid direct afternoon sunlight. Look for an area that can provide dappled light or early morning sun only.

Soil

Tarragon prefers a light, sandy, well-drained soil.

Season

Let your climate determine which type of tarragon is best for you to grow. My Rooted Garden clients in Houston grow Mexican tarragon because of the heat and humidity there. Both Russian and French tarragon can handle some cold snaps. If you live somewhere colder and wish to grow Mexican tarragon, treat it like an annual herb and grow it during your warmest season.

Growing Tarragon from Seed

Russian and Mexican tarragon can be planted by seed in the spring once the danger of frost has passed. Cover seeds very lightly with soil.

Planting a Tarragon Transplant

If you're planting tarragon in the ground, add some compost and sand to improve the drainage of clay-heavy soil. Make sure you place the herb so that the top of the rootball is level with the soil surface; don't bury the plant above its neck (where the roots meet the stem). Water in well.

Tarragon can also be planted in raised beds, which will provide the good drainage tarragon loves. It does spread via underground runners, but they're less aggressive than mint runners and shouldn't cause issues. Tarragon is actually a good companion plant for most of the other edible plants in your raised-bed kitchen garden.

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How to Care for Tarragon

Perform these tending tasks to keep tarragon plants happy:

Water

Tarragon is drought-resistant and dislikes wet conditions. During prolonged dry periods, give tarragon plants supplemental watering. Otherwise, tarragon plants are likely to not need much additional moisture. If the top inch of soil has any moisture at all, don't add more water.

Feed

Add some fresh compost around the base of your plants one to two times during their growing period. Tarragon shouldn't need any additional fertilizer.

Protect

Cover plants with frost cloth, a cloche, or cold frame during winter for frost protection.

Prune

In addition to pinching off flowers to maintain the best leaf flavor, prune your plant regularly to encourage bushier growth. Pruning herbs, of course, is also harvesting, so bring all those leaves inside to enjoy!

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Become a member of Gardenary 365 to watch this online gardening course. You'll learn how to plant and harvest herbs to use fresh or dry for all 12 months of the year. Skip past those overpriced herbs at the grocery store!

Growing Tarragon in Containers

Tarragon makes an excellent container herb. Just keep your pot or container in a sunny spot.

Since Mexican tarragon is sensitive to cold weather, you can pot it up and move it indoors before your first frost date.

Tarragon is actually named for its twisting root system, so know that potted tarragon will need to be replanted or divided every couple of years to prevent it from becoming root bound (which can impact the flavor negatively).

Wait until all threat of frost has passed in the spring before you move potted tarragon back outside.

How to Harvest and Store Tarragon Leaves

Tarragon can be harvested from as soon as the stems grow at least 6 inches tall. Harvest frequently during the growing period to encourage your plant to keep producing more leaves, but never harvest more than a third of the plant at one time. Use a clean pair of scissors or snips to cut the outer stems near the base.

Tarragon leaves are at their peak of flavor before the plant flowers. Prune back any flower buds to maintain flavor and encourage bushier herb growth.

Use the leaves fresh, freeze them, or store them in a container in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator for up to 14 days.

You can also air dry the leaves by tying a bunch of sprigs together and hanging them upside down in a cool, dark room for several days. Leaves will quickly lose their flavor, so store them in an airtight container once they've lost their moisture. Drying leaves in an oven or dehydrator will similarly cause the essential oils to evaporate and the leaves to lose their flavor, so those methods are not recommended. Dried leaves should last 1 to 3 years.

Tarragon Fresh vs Tarragon Dried

Fresh tarragon leaves have a less potent but more nuanced flavor than dried. Even though French tarragon can hold up under a bit of heat, it's best to add fresh tarragon leaves to your food only at the end of cooking.

tarragon how to grow

Tarragon Benefits

Tarragon has long been used to treat pain. It belongs to the Artemisia group of plants, which have been used in both folk and modern medicine to treat a number of various health conditions. It's also one of the herbs commonly used in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet but has not been explicitly linked to heart health.

Like with many other things, the benefits of tarragon need to be studied in humans further.

Potential benefits of tarragon include the following:

  • Tarragon contains small amounts beneficial nutrients like manganese, iron, and potassium.
  • Tarragon may help to decrease inflammation.
  • Tarragon may help to improve digestion.
  • Tarragon essential oil may have antibacterial properties capable of preventing bacteria like E. coli, which causes food-borne illness.
  • Tarragon may provide effective treatment for pain associated with conditions like osteoarthritis.
  • Tarragon may improve and help to regulate sleep by calming your nervous system without the need for sleeping pills.
  • Tarragon may help decrease blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity.
benefits of tarragon

Tarragon Uses

Tarragon is an incredibly popular and traditional herb in French cuisine, appearing in bouquet garni and Herbes de Provence. This herb is often used to enhance the flavor of meat, eggs, and fish. In fact, it's used in both hollandaise and béarnaise sauces. Tarragon sprigs steeped in white vinegar make an excellent dressing or marinade. You could also mix dried tarragon leaves with a little olive oil and drizzle it over vegetables for roasting.

Tarragon, like many other herbs in the Aster family, can also be used to make a soothing tea.

How to Make Tarragon Tea

Boil a tablespoon of fresh or dried tarragon leaves in 8 to 10 ounces of water. (If you have Mexican tarragon, you can use the flowers too.) Allow the herbs to steep for 5 minutes.

(Optional: Add grated ginger or mint leaves for indigestion relief. Add fresh stevia leaves or honey for a little extra sweetness.)

Strain and drink up!

(Since there are no extensive studies on the effects of tarragon tea while pregnant, talk to your doctor or skip this tea if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.)

Watch a short video showing how to make tarragon tea here.

tarragon uses

It's Tarragon Growing Time!

I hope you find this herb as delightful to grow as I do.

Thanks for bringing back the herb garden with me, one delicious herb at a time.

tarragon growing