- Author: Linda Lewis Griffith
- Editor: Noni Todd
By Linda Lewis Griffith UCCE Master Gardener
Common Name: French Tarragon
Planting Zone: Sunset zones 14-24
Size: Sprawls to less than 2 ft. tall
Bloom Season: Mostly non-flowering
Exposure: Full sun
Pruning Needs: Trim sprigs as needed for seasoning
Water Needs: Moderate to regular water, letting soil dry between watering.
Narrative: Tarragon is a bushy, aromatic perennial that is in the same genus as wormwood and mugwort. Native to southern Europe, it has become an important garden herb in Europe, Asia and the United States. The botanical name, dracunulus, comes from the Greek word for little dragon and likely refers to the plant's serpentine root system. According to medieval folklore, plants with coiled roots were believed to cure venomous snake bites. The Romans thought tarragon would ward off exhaustion. Travelers in the Middle Ages placed fresh sprigs inside their boots before embarking on long journeys. Tarragon is no longer used medicinally but instead has become an indispensable component of French cooking. It pairs well with egg dishes, fish and chicken recipes and flavored vinegars and mustards. There are two common forms of tarragon; French tarragon, often labeled ‘Sativa,' is a sprawling, flowerless plant with slender stems and smooth, aromatic, shiny dark leaves that are widely spaced along the stem.
Russian tarragon, which may be labeled ‘Inodorous,' grows to 3 ft. tall and is a coarser plant with roughish, pale green leaves that lack the flavor and aroma of French tarragon. Both varieties die back to the ground in winter but return in spring. Any tarragon seeds available for sale are generally the Russian variety. Therefore, true French tarragon must always be propagated from cuttings or seedlings. Divide mature plants every 2 to 3 years to keep them vigorous and to prevent them from becoming woody. Divide plants in late summer when growth is minimal and mild weather causes less damage to the roots. Lift host plant from the ground, shaking off loose soil and removing dead leaves or stems. Trim off excess top-growth to minimize moisture loss through the leaves. Divide the plant into smaller pieces, replant new divisions promptly and water thoroughly.