Tarragon Plant Harvesting: Tips On Harvesting Tarragon Herbs
By: Amy Grant
Tarragon is a delicious, licorice flavored, perennial herb useful in any number of your culinary creations. As with most other herbs, tarragon is cultivated for its flavorful leaves rich in essential oils. How do you know when to harvest tarragon though? Read on to find out about tarragon harvest times and how to harvest tarragon.
Tarragon Plant Harvesting
All herbs should be harvested when their essential oils are at their peak, early in the morning after the dew has dried and before the heat of the day. Herbs, in general, can be harvested when they have enough leaves to maintain growth.
As tarragon is a perennial herb, it can be harvested up until late August. Be advised to stop harvesting tarragon herbs one month before the frost date for your area. If you keep harvesting tarragon herbs too late in the season, the plant will likely keep producing new growth. You risk damaging this tender growth if temps get too chilly.
Now you know when to harvest tarragon. What other tarragon plant harvesting info can we dig up?
How to Harvest Fresh Tarragon
First off, there is no specific tarragon harvest time date. As mentioned above, you may begin harvesting the leaves as soon as the plant has enough to sustain itself. You are never going to denude the entire plant. Always leave at least 1/3 of the foliage on the tarragon. That said, you want the plant to attain some size before hacking at it.
Also, always use kitchen shears or the like, not your fingers. The leaves of the tarragon are very delicate and if you use your hands, you will likely bruise the leaves. Bruising releases the aromatic oils of the tarragon, something you don’t want to happen until you are just about to use it.
Snip off the newer baby shoots of light green leaves. Tarragon produces new growth on the old woody branches. Once removed, wash the shoots with cool water and pat them dry gently.
When you are ready to use them, you can remove the individual leaves by sliding your fingers down the length of the shoot. Use leaves removed in this manner immediately since you have just bruised the leaves and the time is ticking before the aroma and flavor wanes.
You can also individually snip the leaves off the shoot. These can then be used immediately or stored in a freezer bag and frozen. The entire sprig can also be store in a glass with a bit of water at the bottom, sort of like keeping a flower in a vase. You can also dry the tarragon by hanging the shoots in a cool, dry area. Then store the dried tarragon in a container with a tight fitting lid or in a plastic bag with a zip top.
As fall approaches, tarragon’s leaves begin to yellow, signaling that it is about to take a winter sabbatical. At this time, cut the stalks back to 3-4 inches (7.6 to 10 cm.) above the crown of the plant to prepare if for the successive spring growing season.
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Growing Tarragon: The Complete Guide to Plant, Grow, & Harvest Tarragon
Ame lives off-the-grid on her beautiful farm in Falmouth, Kentucky. She has been gardening organically for over 30 years and has grown vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, and ornamentals. She also participates in Farmers Markets, CSA, and mentors young farmers. Ame is the founder and director of Fox Run Environmental Education Center where she teaches environmental education programs in self-sufficiency, herbal medicine, green building, and wildlife conservation.
Tarragon is a hardy perennial herb that may not be a staple in your kitchen – but it should be. Not only is growing tarragon one of the easier gardening challenges you can take on, but the herb has lots of uses, from the kitchen to the medicine cabinet.
Famous as a component in hollandaise and béarnaise sauces, the mild and slightly anise flavor of tarragon leaves will take your recipes to the next level. It pairs particularly well with fish, cheese and egg dishes. Tarragon also adds a nice flavor to beans or greens such as spinach. The sweet smell is reminiscent of fresh-cut hay.
Tarragon is known as “little dragon” from its Latin name of dracunculus. The name is believed to come from the shape of tarragons roots, which coil amongst each other like sleeping snakes. Tarragon was one of the medicinal herbs used by Hippocrates and was common in gardens of the Middle Ages.
This article will introduce you to growing tarragon and all the reasons you shouldn’t wait to plant it in your herb garden.
How to Grow Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Tarragon is a perennial herb that has been cultivated for culinary purposes dating back to 500 BC in Ancient Greece. Originally from Siberia, tarragon has been naturalized to temperate climates all throughout Asia, Europe, and the United States. In the 15th century, tarragon was introduced to France, where it became an instant sensation, and one of the most widely used spices in the region.
Growing one to three feet high, the tarragon shrub isn’t very ornamental. Multiple woody branches are decorated with green, glossy, thin, spear-shaped leaves with pointed tips and flat margins. In the summertime, tarragon plants begin to flower, producing yellowish-green blossoms atop each of the plant’s stems.
Tarragon’s flowers are actually composite blossoms. Each flowerhead is composed of over 40 different individual florets. Tarragon flowers do not produce usable seeds. If the flowers develop seeds at all, they will most likely be sterile, or incapable of germinating. Tarragon plants can only be propagated by root cuttings, rhizome sprouts, and stem division.
Tarragon can be consumed fresh or dried. It has a pungent, peppery bite and a sweet, licorice-like flavor. The herb is commonly used to flavor vinegar, and is an essential ingredient in dijon mustard. Fresh tarragon leaves are often tossed directly into salads, and fresh and even dried tarragon leaves are used to flavor various marinades, sauces and dishes made of fish, chicken, cheese, and eggs.
Aside from its culinary value, tarragon is also used traditionally in the folk medicine of various countries around the globe. It has been used to treat scurvy, insomnia, hyperactivity, loss of appetite, digestive issues, and arthritis pain. Eugenol is a substance that is made from tarragon which is used in dentistry for its anesthetic and antiseptic properties. In addition to its culinary use as a flavoring agent, tarragon leaves are also highly nutritious, providing a good source of vitamins A and C, as well as a long list of essential minerals, which includes iron, iodine, calcium, and manganese.
Varieties of Tarragon
True tarragon, the most popular variety of tarragon, is also commonly called French tarragon, a title which was most likely given due to how prominent a role tarragon has played in the history of the French cuisine. True, or French tarragon is also commonly referred to as estragon. French tarragon is a member of the sunflower family. This article focuses on growing French tarragon specifically.
Aside from True tarragon, two other popular varieties exist, False, or Russian tarragon, and Mexican Mint tarragon. False tarragon is less of a culinary staple than its counterpoint, and is said to have an inferior aroma and taste. The sprigs of Russian tarragon can be treated like asparagus, and are quite similar in texture and flavor. Mexican Mint tarragon, a member of the Marigold family, is a stellar substitution for French tarragon and is well suited for gardeners who live in climates which are too warm for growing French tarragon.
Growing Conditions for Tarragon
Hardy to USDA zones four through eight, tarragon should be planted in locations that receive full sunlight exposure. Give each plant plenty of space to grow, putting at least 18 to 24 inches of room between plants in your garden beds in order to provide ample air circulation. Giving your tarragon plants extra space will also help keep their quickly-spreading roots from crowding nearby plants in the same bed.
Ideally, tarragon should be provided with fertile, well-draining soil, but the hardy herb plants will adapt to poor, dry, or sandy soil mediums, as long as they are well-draining. The reason tarragon is adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions is due to its vigorous root system. Tarragon is tolerant of arid climates, and once plants are established, they do not require frequent watering, aside from during drought-like conditions. Tarragon is firmly hardy to zone five during the winter and, if provided with a sheltered location and a thick layer of mulch in place to protect the plant’s crown, the herb will likely survive in zone 4B as well.
How to Plant Tarragon
Start tarragon seeds indoors in or around April or prior to the last expected frost in your region. Sow four to six seeds in each pot using a nutrient-rich, consistently moist potting soil. To encourage fast germination, cover the seeds with just enough soil to hide the seeds and keep the pots in a low light environment at room temperature. Thin seedlings down to one plant per pot, keeping the healthiest-looking specimen from each container.
Move transplants outdoors into full sun locations once the temperatures have become fairly warm. Provide tarragon seedlings with a well-draining fertile soil medium, ideally a sandy soil base with a neutral pH between 6.5 and 7.5. To improve air circulation and give the herbs vigorous roots plenty of space, allow 18 to 24 inches between each plant in the garden bed.
Before transplanting, amend the soil with lots of organic materials, such as well-rotted manure, worm castings, or compost, as well as some medium that is designed to improve moisture retention, like peat moss or perlite, and last but not least, add in two even tablespoons of phosphorus-rich bone meal.
To transplant tarragon into your garden beds, dig a hole that is a couple of inches larger than the root ball and double the width. Ease the root ball into the hole and fill the hole back in around the root ball with newly amended soil. Gently pat the soil down around the root ball to pack it into place and water to help ease the plant’s transition and to get the soil to settle in around the base of the plant.
French tarragon is well-suited to container gardening due to its vigorously spreading root system. The roots of True tarragon are made up of rapidly spreading, twisted, zigzagging runners. Giving tarragon its own dedicated space allows its root system to expand freely without impeding on the territory of neighboring plants.
Tarragon can also be planted directly into the ground, though its roots will likely take over more than its fair share of earth. To restrict the roots of your tarragon plants without hurting the plants, you could plant it in a big pot and bury the pot into the soil. This method will give the roots of the tarragon plant ample room to spread within its own space, but will keep the roots from encroaching on the space occupied by other nearby plants.
Care for Tarragon
To provide a fertile soil for tarragon, beds should be amended as outlined above, with multiple mediums, including organic materials, water retention materials, and bone meal. Once established, tarragon does not need a lot of fertilization, but plants can greatly benefit from a couple of fish fertilizer treatments during the growing season.
During the winter, tarragon goes dormant and starts to die back. Cut the stems back to about three inches after the foliage dies off and cold weather begins. Near the end of winter, cut back all remaining stems to one inch and rejuvenate the soil with a top dressing of compost or manure.
Prune tarragon occasionally throughout the growing season to keep the plant from flowering, keeping the height around two feet. If tarragon plants are allowed to get taller than two feet, they are prone to falling over, damaging their stems in the process. In cold climate areas, mulch around your tarragon plants in late autumn as their roots will need some insulation to survive the winter. Cut back any browning leaves in the spring to encourage new healthy growth.
How to Propagate Tarragon
Create new plants from stem or root cuttings as needed and divide tarragon plants during either spring or fall once every three to four years. Dividing your tarragon plants will help keep them healthy and avoid overcrowding their roots. True tarragon cannot be propagated from seed, as the seeds the plant produces are sterile. If you purchase tarragon seed, it will be the Russian variety, which lacks the typical tarragon flavor.
For stem cuttings, take six to eight inch pieces and let them develop roots by placing them in moistened sand for four weeks during the summer. Dividing the roots of tarragon plants is challenging to say the least, as the serpentine root system is very hard to untangle. If you can’t get them to untangle, just slice through them with a spade and prune the roots back 2 inches. Then, replant the divisions in your beds and water well to help the new plants get established.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Tarragon
Though there are no serious issues concerning tarragon plants when it comes to pest infestations, overly wet or soggy soil, especially when drainage is an issue, is a concern for tarragon plants, which are susceptible to multiple disease problems related to overwatering, including downy mildew, powdery mildew, and root rot. Avoid overhead watering to keep leaves dry and fix any drainage issues that come to your attention immediately.
If you are growing in containers and your plants start to turn brown, cut the plant back and allow plenty of time for it to start recovering. It has likely just gone dormant, and will be ready to produce again when spring comes back around again.
How to Harvest Tarragon
As a perennial, French tarragon should be harvested right up until the last days of summer. However, be sure to stop harvesting the leaves at a minimum of one month before the season’s first frosts are set to occur. Once the stems grow to around six inches tall, you can start harvesting. To make sure that the leaves you are taking are retaining the best possible flavor, keep the top of the plant trimmed back during the peak of the season. This will also make your tarragon plants grow into more full and bushy specimens.
How to Store Tarragon
As is the case with most herbs, the leaves of the tarragon plant are best when used fresh from the plant. Keep fresh tarragon leaves stored in the fridge wrapped in a paper towel and stored in a plastic bag, where it should stay fresh for two to three weeks.
To dry tarragon for extended storage, hang stems in bunches facing upside down in a dark, dry location. To extend the storage of fresh leaves, place fresh tarragon sprigs into airtight containers and place them in the freezer. Dried tarragon will store for up to three years. Frozen tarragon should be used within one year.
With a delicate flavor that is similar to anise, licorice and mint, it is no wonder why tarragon has been a part of culinary traditions for thousands of years. Tarragon is a great companion plant in the garden, but it is also a great companion herb in the kitchen too. It pairs well with just about everything, enhancing the flavor of meat and vegetable dishes alike. Tarragon should be added to dishes near the end of the cooking process, as too much heat exposure causes the herb to become a bit bitter. Tarragon is a member of the herbal flavoring quartet known as fines herbs, along with chervil, chives, and parsley. These four herbs are commonly used together to flavor popular dishes from all over the world.
It's pretty much as you describe - but don't remove more than one-third of total growth at any one time, and allow the plant to regenerate before harvesting again. Seriously though, depending on your climate, just take what you need at one sitting to use fresh. That often means just one or two sprigs. If you 'chop off their heads' that will encourage more and bushier growth. Or, to put it another way, just give a tidy-up, trimming hair-cut!
For tarragon (and most herbs), as Daisy says, cutting the growing tips of the stems will encourage bushier growth farther below. Don't cut off individual leaves. For parsley, of course, the leaves emerge from the crown, so you'll want to cut the leaves you want very close to the crown.
When I harvest french tarragon I only like to harvest young shoots that are no longer than 6" or so because I think they have a better flavor. I only use tarragon for homemade salad dressings so I don't use a lot at one time and the plant I harvest from is rather large. I'll cut back a third of the plant to about 4" from the ground throughout the year to encourage new shoots.
For parsley I dry alot through out the season so I will cut the stems from the outside of the plant (at the base of the plant) leaving the center young leaves for fresh use and regrowth.
I differ about havesting parsley from nygardener
You DO NOT cut/ harvest the leves very close to the crown but rather the outer most leaves.
Think about getting leaves from your lettuce! which ones you will pick?Always from outside.
The leaves at the center, and near it, are very young or just emerging and are trying to grow.
So you give them a chance to do so. Sure, you can raze all of the leavea to bear groung
and they still will grow back but not the right way to do it.
How to use Dried Tarragon
Other than adding to any dish as you normally would, here is a nice herb blend that I love:
Fines Herbes Blend
This herb blend is wonderful on chicken, in alfredo pasta, in salads and more. You can multiply it out as much as you need, and adjust flavors a bit if you'd like. You can purchase it already made here if sourcing chervil is a problem.
Free Tarragon Printable Worksheet
If you are already a member of The Purposeful Pantry Library, grab your worksheet here.
How to Freeze Tarragon
1. Always wash your herbs
Wash in water to remove any debris. Layout out flat on a tea towel to dry.
2. Strip the leaves
Place 2 TB in each compartment and cover completely with oil or water.
Store your cubes in airtight containers or in baggies with all of the air removed to prolong freezer-life.
Toss your tarragon nuggets into stews and soups and they will thaw and flavor your food.
Creamy Tarragon Chicken Salad
Only a pesto chicken salad can rival this chicken salad for me. I love ones that let the chicken flavor stand out - not the mayo flavor of so many. You can skip the sour cream and add a little more yogurt plus some lemon juice if you prefer.
- 2 cans canned chicken (or use freshly roasted chicken chunks). I really like Kirkland'scanned chicken that I keep stocked in my pantry.
- 1 cup plain yogurt (make from powdered milk)
- ½ cup sour cream
- ½ cup walnut halves
- 2 TB fresh tarragon, chopped - less if you are using dried
- 1 TB fresh mint leaves (less if you are using dried)
- 1 finely chopped apple
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Directions - Mix all ingredients and store in refrigerator - serve with crackers, on homemade bread, etc.
Whether you buy it from the store or grow it in your herb garden, tarragon is a great herb to preserve for use throughout the year, in many different ways. These step by step instructions make it easy for you to do so. And be sure to apply these preservation methods to other herbs.