Is it French tarragon?

PurpleRainbow(z8 NW WA)August 3, 2005

I purchased a plant labeled French tarragon, no latin name given. Research I've done provides conflicting info. Some places say it will not flower and produce seed and can only be grown from cuttings, other places say it will flower and grow from seed. Supposedly it is harder to come by than other herbs but the plant labeled French tarragon remains in stock at Fred Meyer in their garden center. What I have looks like pictures of French tarragon, it has a sort of licorice taste. How do I know if this is Artemisia dracanculus or something else? I'd thought that if it flowers it isn't the real thing, now I'm not so sure. Help?

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French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Also known as Estragon. A half-hardy perennial, growing to about 60cm high and 45cm wide. Has long, fibrous roots spreading by runners. Leaves have an Anise-like flavour and are much used in French cuisine. Woody stems are covered with lance-shaped, thin, blue-green leaves about 5cm long. Flowers are small and greenish-white, and are seldom fully opened.

French Tarragon rarely sets seed, especially in cool climates (and much of the seed is sterile) and is usually propagated by stem cuttings, taken in early spring. They are slow to ÂstrikeÂ.

The best way to tell if you have French Tarragon (as opposed to Russian Tarragon or Winter Tarragon) is a taste test. When you taste the leaves of French Tarragon, you get an astonishing tongue-numbing effect. (Useful when you have a toothache!)

Russian Tarragon is very similar to French Tarragon in appearance, but it has a dubious sort of flavour, and it self-seeds readily, and can become a weed in no time flat. It's also taller than French Tarragon.

Winter Tarragon is Tagetes lucida, also known by many other names including Mexican Marigold Mint, Cloud Plant or Yerba anis. It makes a reasonable flavour substitute for French Tarragon, but the tongue-numbing effect is considerably reduced. The leaves of this plant are greener than the green-grey colour of French Tarragon. And it's easier to grow in warmer climates.

The tarragon labelling system is one of my pet bugbears. Too many nurseries wrongly label plants, so that buyers are fobbed off with the wrong thing. It happens all the time, and I think it's a disgraceful state of affairs.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2005 at 7:27PM
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PurpleRainbow(z8 NW WA)

Thanks, Daisyduckworth, that was fast! I was just coming back to do more reading of threads and you'd already responded.

Tongue numbing, huh? Well, maybe I have the real thing. I was wondering why my tongue feels like it does. I will sample again to be sure. Thanks. I don't know what anise tastes like, though I know I should, I just don't recall right now. LOL My plant is small so size isn't going to tell me what it is yet.

I agree with you about the labeling, it's not just tarragon that gripes me, it's often a gamble to trust the labeling on plants. I knew when I bought it there was a good chance of mislabeling and that's one reason I've been trying to figure out what it is. I grabbed one in case it was correctly labelled. I think I can pretty reasonably rule out Mexican tarragon. I just might have to add it to my herb collection, though.

Yes, another taste test is in order.


    Bookmark   August 3, 2005 at 8:39PM
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Aniseed tastes like liquorice. In fact, most commercial liquorice confectionery has little or no liquorice in it at all - it's made with an aniseed extract. So - French Tarragon tastes a bit like liquorice - with tongue-numbing oomph.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2005 at 2:42AM
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PurpleRainbow(z8 NW WA)

The taste is right, and there is some tongue numbing but I'm not sure it's an oomph. I think that maybe I do have the real thing. How lucky is that? LOL :o)color>

    Bookmark   August 4, 2005 at 12:31PM
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I see most say there isn't any French tarragon seed but one website says they are "difficult" to find. Just ordered tarragon from "Seeds of Italy"--a good seed supplier--and its website (but not its print catalog) says the Franchi Sementi seeds are the " true French tarragon, not the more common and somewhat coarser Russian tarragon." The Franchi label reads "Drangcello" which leds me to believe it might be the real thing. Or has the American distributor made an error?

Not too interested in starting a bunch of it if it is the Russian variety.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2007 at 12:33AM
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Update: I don't have French Tarragon. Russian is referred to as French tarragon in Italy (same mistake we see here often) and the American distributor (who grew it out and discovered it was Russian), while changing his package to reflect the true orgin, forgot to update his website. He replied to an email inquiry within hours and offered a refund (which I declined. Might as well grow it).

    Bookmark   January 12, 2007 at 9:34PM
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carex(USDA zone 8a)

I have a friend in Opelika,AL who was a victim of pot labelling fraud. He aasured me that he had the true french tarragon as his pot was labelled Artemisia dracunculus. Well this plant has grown in full son for the last 4 months and has reached a height of about 3/4 of a meter to a meter. Unfortunately it started flowering several weeks ago and it has quite pretty aster flowers. These flowers have 4-5 ray corllas that are about a 2 cm in length and appr. 1 cm wide. Ray corollas are darker orange and many in #. I know this is not French tarragon. My question is it russia tarragon? I can't find a picture anywhere of A. dracunuloides flowering. Does anyone know if this description is Russian tarragon?

    Bookmark   November 6, 2008 at 10:56AM
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ltcollins1949(9a TX)

To my knowledge Artemisia dracunculus subsp. dracunculoides Russian Tarragon can grow up to 5'. I have read the flowers of both the Russian Tarragon and Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa the French Tarragon are very small, globe-shaped and yellow, green and white flowers.

It sounds to me that you might have Tagetes lucida Mexican Mint Marigold, also known as Texas Tarragon. It is grown in the south in place of French Tarragon. The French Tarragon will not grow down here because of the heat. It is a tender perennial that can reach 12" to 32" in height, but mine generally stay around 20". It can be used as a substitute for any recipe calling for French Tarragon. The yellow flowers are borne in flat-topped cluster, and they are also edible.

Questions about tarragon from GardenWeb. You might be able to find some information by reading prior posts.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2008 at 12:14PM
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InsteaD of starting a new thread I searched and found this thread, which is 5 years old.

I think there is a room for this topic in the Herbs forum.
Last year while visiting my brother in San Diego I bought
a packet of seeds from HD, which read "tarragon". My ignorance,
that never knew the difference between a FRENCH tarragon
and RUSIAN tarragon. Later on, last year I learned about it in this forum.
So I bought some fresh French tarragon from market and tried to root them.
I only suceeded having just one plant.
Last fall Iwent to PIKES nurseries. Thy had clearannce on many herbs,
Freanch tarragon among them. The prices were drastically
reduced so I bought 3 plants in 6-8" pots and planted them in my garden.
I am so glad with my purchase. Those 3 plus my own, are growing nicely
which have survived our relatively harsh winter.

Now, there are still things that I need to learn; How to care for them properly, how(often) to feeds them, how often to water them.
Here we go Daisy D. The ball is on your court. lol

    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 3:20AM
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Well, Cyrus, I fervently hope you haven't been fobbed off with Russian Tarragon! Time will tell.

Tarragon requires a cold period each year (which is why I can't grow it here in the subtropics), so when dividing the root crowns, refrigerate them for about 2-3 months or freeze them for about a week or longer before planting. It requires a sunny position (partial shade in hot climates) in light, well-drained soil, pH 6.7. Water well in dry weather, though it is fairly drought-resistant and fertilise often. Over-watering will cause root rot. Usually becomes dormant during winter and may be difficult to grow in warmer climates. In cold climates, cut the plants to the ground after frost has killed the top growth and mulch well with straw. Foliage dies back in winter. Roots should be lifted and divided every 2 years. The plant is susceptible to mildew and root rot. Flowers, when they appear at all, will rarely open fully and should be pinched off as the buds appear to encourage leaf production. Plants lose their flavour after about 4 years.

Harvesting: It will tolerate fairly heavy cutting of tip growth. Begin harvesting in early summer, once plants reach 30cm, then again in late summer, before the first frost, harvest the whole plant. Leaves may be used fresh, frozen or dried, though dried leaves lose much of their flavour.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 3:36AM
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Thanks Daisy D.

I am both in cold and warm climate. While our winter lows dipped into
mid teens F ( - 8 C), our sommers can go to triple digits on the Fahrenheit scale.
So, although it is recommende to planttarragon in full sun, I havs chosen a partial shade area.
My tarragons are about 2" tall now and with the temps climbing to 70F,
they are growing nicely.
Russian tarragon, well, is just a weed, as you and others have commented.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 6:33PM
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kvlvr(SE WY)

I am so glad I found this thread. Two seasons ago I bought what was labeled as a French Tarragon plant. It does bloom small insignificant flowers. The taste is mildly licorice flavored but it will really numb your tongue when you sample a leaf. Since it has now survived two of our winters I have been really wondering what I had as I kept reading that it was only half hardy...
Grin sounds like I may have struck gold with my now lovely bushy plant and actually gotten a real French Tarragon plant.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2010 at 7:25PM
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Where can I find the Mexican version?

    Bookmark   June 11, 2010 at 1:50AM
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Hi ,i just got a another new French Tarragon plant with me cz the 1st one that i bought was im wondering that did i grow it in the wrong way or i did not water the plant? so at the begining a month ago when i go the 1st French Tarragon, i put it under the cooling place cz im afraid that it will die due to the very humid and hot weather in my country in Malaysia which is from 32c to 38c during the afternoon,night time is around 26c.So i placed it in the toilet where there is very soft light from the window and i water twice a day, which the plant still look beautiful,then after 4 days in the toilet,i decided to move the plant to a bigger pot and leave it outside of my house which was still under the shadow but the wind will be slightly more warm and humid compare to the indoor shadow which is more i left it outside of my house for about 10 days and it slowly turned brown from the bottom part then slowly to the top part,and at the end the whole plant was dead...i did water the plant every 3 days because i felt the soil was quite moisture under the shadow,so i dont dare to water it everyday.Base on my researched on wikipedia said that French Tarragon do not need alot of water but they do need " sunny pot and sun " which i did not really put it under the sun,so i would like to know that the death of the plant was cause by less water or no sun or too humid and heat? Now i got the new one here with me,and i still keep it in the toilet like my 1st place,i water twice a day and its been already 1 week if i wana move it to a bigger pot like before,what advise would u give me to follow? So that i could grow it bigger and beautiful :)

    Bookmark   June 30, 2011 at 11:19AM
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HI Daniel, Have you experimented any further since your last post? Sounds like you should leave it in your bathroom (toilet) and try less water as a first experiment.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 5:16PM
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