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French tarragon


Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa is native to the Caspian Sea area and Siberia. It is now cultivated widely in Europe, Asia, and the US. The name comes from the French esdragon, meaning “little dragon”. Perhaps the dragon-like roots were seen as being able to strangle the plant if not divided often. Long ago, it was used to treat snakebite, and pilgrims of the Middle Ages wore some on their boots when they started out on their journeys. The juices of French tarragon and fennel were combined to make a favorite drink for the kings of India. It made its way into English gardens during the reign of Henry the VIII, and one legend has it that he divorced Catherine of Aragon because of her reckless use of the herb. Thomas Jefferson was an early distributor of French tarragon in the US. Harvest and Use: French tarragon is grown for its distinctively flavored leaves. Its mint-anise taste is particularly suited to vinegar and fish. It was also used to stimulate the appetite, relieve flatulence and colic, cure rheumatism, and relieve toothache. Chew on a leaf and you will feel a numbness in your tongue. French tarragon has a few uses beyond the culinary. It has antioxidant and antifungal properties making it a good food preservative. It has been found in perfumes, soaps, cosmetics, and liqueurs. It is one of the fines herbes in French cooking. This classic combination is made up of four fresh herbs: tarragon, thyme, parsley, and chervil. It is also found in Herbes de Provence, which, my friend from Provence informs me, is not a combination of set herbs, but simply a blend of herbs found in the Mediterranean region. Go lightly when using French tarragon in cooking as the herb can easily overpower the other flavors and can be somewhat bitter. Use fresh leaves in salads or as a garnish. It is found in the classic sauces remoulade and béarnaise, in French dressing, and in the classic dish, Escalopes de Veau a l’Estragon. It goes with fish, shellfish, pork, beef, lamb, game, and poultry. Vegetables and fruits like leeks, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions, artichokes, asparagus, mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, beets, peas, parsley, chervil, garlic, chives, lemons, oranges, rice, and barley all benefit from the addition of tarragon. It makes a delicious vinegar alone or in combination with chives, lemon balm, shallots, and garlic and goes well in creamed soups and sauces, and with cheese, eggs, sour cream, and yogurt. A few fresh leaves are harvested by snipping with a scissors. Two large harvests can generally be taken in the second year. The first cutting is possible when the plant reaches 8 to 10 inches tall. Cut the entire plant about 2″ above the ground. I prefer to preserve tarragon either by freezing or putting it in vinegar rather than drying it because it loses flavor and the leaves can turn brown when dried. If you decide to dry, hang bunches upside down in a warm, dark, dry place where there is good air circulation. Handle the leaves carefully as they bruise easily. Cultivation and Propagation: French tarragon is an aromatic, clump-forming, shrubby perennial with upright, branched stems and lance-shaped, smooth, light to mid-green leaves that grow about 3″ long. It reaches a height of 2′ with an 18″ spread. The nondescript flowers are usually sterile and do not yield viable seed, so plants must be purchased. It is hardy to zone 3, likes rich, sandy, well-drained loam with a pH of 6.9, in full or partial shade. Mulching with shredded bark protects it from harsh winters. Cut it back to the ground in spring, remove dead stems, and trim to shape. When companion planting, French tarragon will enhance the growth of any vegetable it is near. The only seed available on the market is for Russian tarragon. I do not recommend the Russian variety for cooking because it almost completely lacks the odor and flavor of true French tarragon. Once your plants are established, you can increase your supply by dividing in spring or by taking cuttings. The plant should be divided every 3 to 4 years to remain productive. Pests: It does not like acid, wet soil, which can cause root rot and mildew.

September 18, 2009 Posted by | Herbs | Leave a comment


Coriandrum sativum has been cultivated for over 3,000 years. Seeds have been found in the tombs of the ancient Egyptians. It is one of the bitter herbs in the Passover ritual. Greek and Roman physicians used it medicinally and steeped it in vinegar to preserve meat. The Chinese believed coriander powder could make a person immortal. And finally, in The Thousand and One Nights, it is referred to as an aphrodisiac.

It is a bright green annual with erect, finely grooved stems. The leaves are round and slightly toothed and could be mistaken for anise. It has tiny white flowers and will grow to 3′ if given the space. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean and southern European regions. It is now cultivated in Morocco, throughout Latin America and in the USA.

Coriander and cilantro are the same plant. The seeds are referred to as coriander, the leaves, cilantro. It bolts very quickly. There are new strains being developed that take longer to bolt. Look for these if you are growing for the leaves. You might also stagger plantings to have it all season.

Harvest and Use: This herb has a bold flavor and fragrance. It is now very popular because it is one of the main herbs in salsa. The leaves have a sage flavor mixed with tangy citrus. It combines well with onions, clams, oysters, potatoes, and, of course, is the herb par excellence for any salsa. Add it to soups, stews, salad, and marinades. It is not surprising to find this citrus-nut flavored herb in Southeast Asian, Indian, and Thai cooking.

Commercially it is used in the food and beverage industries in sugared confections and liqueur. The essential oil is used in the perfume industry and in cosmetics. I have used it to flavor lip balm with great success and plan to add it to my herbal soaps.

Harvest the leaves before the plant flowers for best flavor. Use fresh as it does not dry or freeze well. If it is the seed you want, harvest when the leaves and flowers turn brown and before the seed scatters. Seeds have a bitter taste until they dry. They store well in a tight-lidded jar in a cool, dry, dark place.

Cultivation and Propagation: Cilantro can be grown in full sun or partial shade. Do not crowd the plants. It self-seeds readily. In companion planting, it enhances the growth of anise. It is not difficult to grow from seed, but it is best to plant it where you wish it to stay as it hates to be transplanted. Do not over-fertilize as too much nitrogen takes away the flavor.

Pests: It can suffer from wilt and mildew. Acid soil, a pH of 6.6, helps prevent wilt which is recognized by browning of the leaves and thinning of the vascular system, causing very weak stems. Remove plants and burn them. Growing on the dry side helps alleviate the problem of mildew or spray mildewed plants with ¼ tsp baking soda to a quart of water.

September 18, 2009 Posted by | Herbs | Leave a comment