Artemisia dracunculus 'Sativa'
Common Name: French tarragon
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Asteraceae
Zone: 5 to 8
Height: 1.50 to 3.00 feet
Spread: 1.50 to 2.00 feet
Bloom Time: Rarely flowers
Bloom Description: Non-flowering
Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Annual, Herb
Leaf: Fragrant
Tolerate: Rabbit, Deer, Drought, Dry Soil

Culture

Best grown in organically rich, dry to medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Prefers a neutral soil. Avoid wet soils. Appreciates a sheltered location and a year-round mulch in the St. Louis area. Cut plants to the ground in early spring. Dividing the clumps every 3-4 years will help keep plants robust, but replacement of the plants should be considered if plant vitality declines. Since any seed produced is generally sterile, French tarragon should be propagated by cuttings or division. Fresh leaves may be harvested at any time for cooking. Leaves may also be dried for later use by cutting the leafy stems in mid-summer and hanging them in bunches in a cool, dry location. Dried leaves should then be stored in airtight containers.

Noteworthy Characteristics

French tarragon is a culinary herb noted for the pungent anise-like flavor and aroma of its leaves. It is a shrubby perennial which typically grows 18-24" (less frequently to 36") tall on generally erect, leafy stems and slowly spreads by creeping rhizomes. Its narrow, lance-shaped, dark green leaves (to 3" long) may be used fresh or dried to add flavoring to fish, meats, vegetables, eggs, salads, sauces or vinegars. It is the primary flavoring in béarnaise sauce. It rarely flowers, and the few flowers that are produced are usually sterile. French tarragon is sold as either A. d. 'Sativa' or A. d. var. sativa. On the other hand, tarragon sold under the species name without reference to cultivar or variety may be the less pungent Russian tarragon, which is considered by most cooks to be significantly inferior for culinary use.

Problems

Susceptible to root rot in moist soils, particularly poorly drained ones. French tarragon does not always survive St. Louis winters, and wet soils in winter is a common cause of plant demise.

Garden Uses

French tarragon is a culinary herb that is primarily grown in herb gardens. It also may be effectively grown in containers or window boxes. It rarely flowers and is generally not considered suitable for borders or other ornamental plantings.