Herb gardens are a great way to add your own choice of homegrown herbs to your dishes on the homestead. French Tarragon is one of the many herbs you should be including this year in your herb garden.
In this ultimate guide to French Tarragon you will learn how to grow, harvest, preserve, and use it on your homestead. Make sure you get your free Herbal Skill Card at the bottom of this post to use as a reference later.
Understanding French Tarragon
French Tarragon is a perennial herb that is easily confused with Russian Tarragon. Russian Tarragon is coarser in texture and does not have the anise flavor of French Tarragon. Whereas Russian Tarragon can be grown from seed, French Tarragon can not.
French Tarragon goes along-side of chervil, parsley and thyme in many French cooking dishes. French tarragon goes well with fish, eggs, salad greens, chicken, and most types of shellfish.
Its Latin name is Artemisia dracunculus (Asteraceae—daisy family) and comes from Siberia and the Caspian Sea.
Planting French Tarragon
As stated above, French tarragon cannot be started from seeds because its flowers are sterile. Instead, it must be started from cuttings in the spring or summer, or you can buy plants that are already growing. One plant is enough unless you are preserving it, then 2 plants are recommended.
This herb prefers full sun or partial shade. You can start your cuttings in the ground in spring or summer, even fall if you have enough time for them to get established before the frost starts. You can surround the cuttings with mulch to protect them if fall planting and close to winter.
This is a sprawling herb that needs to be spread apart about 18 to 24 inches to allow room to grow. The soil should have a pH between 6.0 and 7.3. If your soil is too acidic it will not grow, It can, however, tolerate poor soil, but prefers a well-drained, sandy loam. It will not grow in cold, compacted, or wet soil.
Care and Maintenance
Once you have planted your plants or cuttings, keep the soil moist, not wet until they are completely established. Then you only must water occasionally to avoid the soil drying out completely.
Fertilizing should only need to be done twice a year unless you have poor soil or a longer growing season. I do not fertilize mine at all and they do just fine.
Mulching may not be necessary if you live in a mild climate, but in colder climates, mulch should be applied before the first frost as the plant may die back but will return in the spring if protected.
Removing any flowers will keep the plant producing throughout the season. It is recommended to divide your French tarragon about every 3 to 4 years as needed.
To propagate French Tarragon, take some stem cuttings, about 5 to 8 inches in length. Place your cuttings in some moist sand. You may use rooting powder if you so choose. I do not use any rooting hormones and have no problems getting my cuttings to root.
Your new cutting should start enough roots in about 4 weeks that they can be planted in your garden. If you think it may be close to much colder weather, you may want to mulch around them to protect them until established.
It is possible to do root divisions, however, be forewarned that French Tarragon has a very tightly woven root system and if not careful, you may do more damage than good when trying to separate them.
Problems, Pests, and Diseases
Although pests don’t seem to be a threat to French tarragon, there are a few other issues you should watch for. This herb is susceptible to many rusts, including white rust, downy mildew, powdery mildew, and various fungal and leaf infections.
Mildews, as mentioned above, and root rot, become an issue when the herb is left in soil that is overly wet or when the leaves are not able to dry quick enough.
Check out my e-book, Natural Old-Time Hacks, Tips, and Recipes for Your Homestead Gardens for some simple ways to beat these diseases naturally.
Harvesting French Tarragon
During the summer, you can pick the top, younger leaves for the best flavor. By cutting back your herb plant a few times throughout the summer, you will encourage the plant to produce a bushier plant. This in turn, provides more herbs for the harvest.
When harvesting your herb plant, make sure to use sharp scissors or cutters and be especially careful as the leaves can bruise easily.
Preserving Your Harvest
Preserving and storing French tarragon can be done in 4 ways, depending on how you will use it later:
- Storing in an airtight container
Using your French tarragon fresh is always best. To do so, wrap your harvested leaves inside a folded paper towel, then place in a plastic bag inside your fridge. Using this method will allow you to use it fresh for about 3 weeks, usually.
To dry, simple cut some stems, bundle together, and hang upside down in a warm, dry spot in your home that does not get direct sun on it. You can also dry this herb in a microwave by placing on a paper towel and trying 30 second to 1 minute intervals until dry. The oven, on a very low heat also works.
I hang dry mine from a DIY Herb Rack we built in my kitchen. You can watch my YouTube video here to learn how to make one for your homestead.
Freezing can be done by freezing small amounts in small Ziploc freezer bags in the freezer. I normally chop mine fresh, then combine with olive oil and place the mixture in ice cube trays. When I want to use them I simply allow an ice cube or two to melt and use the “paste” in my recipe.
Storing in Airtight Containers
You can also store your French Tarragon in airtight containers. You may want to consider purchasing a vacuum sealer with an attachment for jars if you choose this method. I do not use this method because do not have a vacuum sealer so the Tarragon molds before I can use it all.
Using French Tarragon in Cooking
Tarragon will enhance the flavors of many foods. Usually, it is added towards the end of the cooking process. These foods include:
French tarragon can also flavor many sauces, soups and condiments such as:
- French dressing
- tartar sauce
- cream sauces
- bearnaise sauce
- herbed butter
- sour cream
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For a great E-book packed with information on herb gardening from growing to harvesting and even using your herbs, check out my newest e-book, Herbs 101: Herb Gardening and Preserving for the Beginner.