There are two types of Tarragon, French (which has dark green leaves), and Russian, whose leaves are a bit rougher and a brighter green. The French Tarragon is the one gourmets prefer — some say the Russian has no taste and is useless in the kitchen.
Tarragon is purchased either fresh or dried, whole or ground, but much of the anise-y flavour (which comes from a volatile oil in the leaves) is lost in the drying process. Still, enough survives that Tarragon is used in Fines Herbes mixtures, which are available in France and elsewhere, dried or fresh.
Add Tarragon in the last 15 minutes of cooking.
Tarragon is used in making the French sauce called “Béarnaise”.
Tarragon is good with asparagus, beef, eggs, fish, lamb, mushrooms, poultry, salads, salad dressings, seafood (such as crab and shrimp) and veal.
Angelica, anise or fennel seed, marjoram, dill or basil.
Store fresh Tarragon in the fridge in a plastic bag.
It was believed that Tarragon could drive away dragons, cure poisonous bites and stings and cure the bites of mad dogs (rabies). Tarragon root was used to cure toothache — or at least to make the sufferer think that it was.
Tarragon appears to be native to Western Asia and Southern Russia. It was being used by the Greeks in 500 BC. The Romans thought that the herb might help prevent fatigue, which probably led to the Medieval practice of placing Tarragon in shoes before starting a long walking journey. It didn’t start to be used in European cooking, however, until towards the end of the Middle Ages. The Tudors were given Tarragon for their royal gardens as a gift from a monarch on the continent in the late 1500s. Colonists brought it to North America.
Literature & Lore
In the Middle Ages, people believed that Tarragon would drive away dragons. The Greek word for dragon was “drakon”. In some European languages, the association with the word dragon became “estragon” (in old French, esdragon meant little dragon); our English word took a bit of a detour through Arabic (tarkhun), Latin (tragonia) and then over time became Tarragon.