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Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus L.)


pharmaceuticalHerba Dracunculi
BulgarianЕстрагон, Тарос
Estragon, Taros
艾蒿 [ngaai hōu], 龍艾 [lùhng ngaai], 茵陳蒿 [yàn chàhn hōu]
Ngaai hou, Luhng ngaai, Yan chahn hou
艾蒿 [ài hāo], 龍艾 [lóng ài], 茵陳蒿 [yīn chén hāo], 龍蒿 [lóng hāo], 龙蒿 [lóng hāo]
Ai hao, Long ai, Yin chen hao, Long hao
CroatianEstragon, Tarkanj
CzechEstragon, Pelyněk kozalec
DutchDragon, Drakebloed, Klapperkruid, Slangekruid
FrenchEstragon, Herbe dragonne
T’arkhuna, Tarxuna
GermanEstragon; falsely Bertram
GreekΕστραγκόν, Δράκος, Δρακόντιο, Τάραγκον
Estrangon, Drakos, Drakontio, Tarankon
Greek (Old)Ταρχων
Hebrewטאראגון, טרגון
HungarianTárkony, Tárkonyüröm
IcelandicEsdragon, Fáfnisgras
ItalianEstragon, Estragone, Dragoncella
Japaneseエストラゴン, タラゴン
Esutoragon, Taragon
Laoໃບແຕເຮິເກິນ, ແຕເຮິເກິນ
Bai taehoekoen, Taehoekoen
LithuanianVaistinis kietis, Estragonas, Peletrūnai
MongolianИшгэн шарилж, Эстрагон шарилж
Ishgen sharilzh, Estragon sharilzh
OssetianТӕрхун, Мӕзӕрӕу
Taerkhun, Maezeraeu
PolishBylica estragon, Estragon
PortugueseEstragão, Estragão-francês
ProvençalEstragoun, Tragoum
RomanianTarhon, Tarcăn, Estragon
RussianЭстрагон, Полынь эстрагонная, Тархун
Estragon, Polyn estragonnaya, Tarkhun
SerbianЕстрагон, Пелин таркањ, Таркањ
Estragon, Pelin tarkanj, Tarkanj
SlovakEstragón, Palina dračia
SpanishEstragon, Tarragona, Tarragón
TurkishTarhun, Tarhın, Terhun, Tuzla otu
UkrainianОстрогін, Полин естрагон
Ostrohin, Polyn estrahon
UzbekEstragon, Sherolg’i shuvoq
Эстрагон, Шеролғи шувоқ
VietnameseThanh hao lá hẹp, Ngải giấm, Thanh cao rồng, Ngải thơm
Thanh hao la hep, Ngai giam, Ngai thom

Artemisia dracunculus: Tarragon branch with flowers
French Tarragon branch with flowers
Artemisia dracunculus: Tarragon leaves
Leaves of French Tarragon
Used plant part

Leaves; frequently, stems are included. The herb should be used fresh, because the aroma of dried tarragon is usually very weak.

Plant family

Asteraceae (sunflower family, also known as aster or daisy family), subfamily Asteroidae.

Sensory quality

German Tarragon is sweet and aromatic, reminiscent to fennel, anise and licorice (see also cicely). Russian Tarragon, on the contrast, is not at all fragrant and tastes slightly bitter.

Tarragon’s strong and yet subtle flavour differs much from most other anise-flavoured spices. Yet, a plant popular in the USA but hardly known elsewhere, Mexican tarragon, offers an almost perfect imitation of tarragon aroma.

Artemisia dracunculus f. redowski: Russian tarragon
Russian tarragon (sterile)
Main constituents

The so-called German Tarragon (called French Tarragon in all other countries) is the most aromatic cultivar. It contains up to 3% essential oil, whose aroma is dominated by the phenyl­propanoids methyl chavicol (also called estragole, up to 80%) and its isomer anethol (10%). Important terpene components are trans-β‑ocimene (up to 22%), cis-β‑ocimene (up to 15%) and γ‑terpineol (vary variable, up to 17%). Lesser amounts of p‑methoxy cinnam­aldehyde, phell­andrene, α- and β‑pinene, camphene, limonene and eugenol are also reported.

Another cultivar, the so-called Russian Tarragon (which is closer to the wild form) contains less essential oil (max. 1%), the main components of which are sabinene (up to 50%), methyl eugenol (up to 30%), elemicin (up to 30%), isoelimicin (up to 20%) and β-ocimene (10%). Since estragole is missing from its oil, Russian Tarragon lacks the sweet scent of German Tarragon; instead, flavonoids (quercetin, patuletin) contribute a harsh and astringent flavour. Unfortunately, the Russian variety is much easier to grow in cool climate; most tarragon plants sold for home gardeners belong to this inferior variety.


Central Asia, probably Siberia. It is not known when and by whom the aromatic varieties were first bread, nor when the plant was introduced to Europe. A herb dragantea is mentioned in the Capitulare de villis of Charlemagne, but its identity is not unambiguously clear (see lovage).


In the Middle Ages, tarragon was known as tragonia and tarchon [ταρχων], which is generally believed to be an Arabic loan; in Modern Arabic, the name is at-tarkhun [الطرخون]. The origin of the Arabic name is not clear, but it might be a loan from Old Greek, perhaps akin to drakon [δράκων] dragon, snake. Apparently, the plant was linked to dragons because of the serpent-shaped rhizome, and there was a wide-spread belief that tarragon could not only ward off serpents and dragons, but could also heal snake bites.

Artemisia dracunculus f. redowski: Flowering Russian Tarragon
Flowering Russian Tarragon
Artemisia dracunculus: Russian Tarragon
Russian tarragon

The names of tarragon on modern lan­guages of Europe and Western Asia are mostly derived from the names given in the previous para­graph. Examples include English tar­ragon, Finnish rakuna, Spanish tar­ragona and Hebrew taragon [טרגון]. In French, the name ac­quired an initial E (estragon), which then spread, sup­posedly in the context of French cooking recipes, to many other lan­guages; thus, we find that estragon is a valid name in many the Euro­pean lan­guages, but note the Scandi­navic form esdragon and Russian estragon [эстрагон].

In some languages, the herb has popular names that can be seen as trans­lations of the tarragon/estragon type names into the vernacular: Examples include Dutch slange­kruid snake herb and drake­bloed dragon’s blood, Italian dragon­cella little dragon and French herbe dragonne dragonwort. Cf. also Chinese long hao [龍蒿] dragon-mugwort.

A particularly charming case is Icelandic fáfnis­gras grass of Fafnir, named after an evil dragon in the Eddic poem Fáfnis­mál, who is slain by the hero Sigurth (Poetic Edda). Could one then, in skaldic tradition, refer to tarragon as Gnita Heath’s Green?

Another group of names might have arisen from Arabic without Greek or Latin inter­mediates, e. g., Turkish tarhun, Georgian t’arkhuna [ტარხუნა], Farsi tarkhun [ترخون], Kurdish tarkhuun [تةرخوون] and, via Turkish, Romanian tarhon, Serbian tarkanj [таркањ] and Hungarian tárkony.

For the genus name Artemisia, see southernwood. The species name dracunculus means little dragon (diminutive of draco).

The German name Bertram is sometimes misapplied to tarragon, but should be reserved for Anacyclus pyrethrum (Asteraceae). It is an adaptation of the Greek plant name pyrethron [πύρεθρον], which refers to the hot and pungent taste of the root, or maybe to its antipyretic action (pyr [πῦρ] fire). Compare also Slovenian pehtran.

Selected Links

Indian Spices: Tarragon ( Ilkas und Ullis Kochecke: Estragon ( via A Pinch of Tarragon ( Pflanzen des Capitulare de Villis: Estragon ( Herbs by Linda Gilbert: Tarragon Desirable Herb and Spice Varieties: Tarragon Fafnismal (Ältere Edda) ( Fafnismal – The Lay of Fafnir ( Recipe: Sauce Béarnaise ( Recipe: Sauce Béarnaise ( Science of Eggs: Sauce Hollandaise ( Recipe: Sauce Maltaise ( Recipe: Vitello Tonnato ( Recipe: Vitello Tonnato ( Recipe: Aïoli ( Recipe: Aïoli ( Recipe: Chakapuli [ჩაქაფული] – Georgian Braised Lamb Chops ( Recipe: Chakapuli [ჩაქაფული] – Georgian Lamb Stew (

Artemisia dracunculus: Flowering French tarragon
French Tarragon with flowers
Artemisia dracunculus: French tarragon
French tarragon, sterile sprig
It is indeed amazing why tarragon is so little used in con­tempo­rary European cuisine — tarragon’s subtle yet spicy anise fragrance can improve many different kinds of dishes, and is particular suited for lightly flavoured food as is popular in Western and Central Europe. Maybe the low popularity of tarragon can be explained by the fact that tarragon should always be used as a fresh herb, yet gardeners more frequently sell Russian tarragon, an almost flavourless variety. For whatever reason, tarragon is today almost a quiet tip for expert chefs; those less interested in culinary matters will find it almost exclusively in the form of tarragon-flavoured mustard paste (see white mustard). In the USA, tarragon is largely replaced by the similar yet sweeter Mexican tarragon.

Yet, in Southern Europe, particularly in France, tarragon is more popular; it is a component of the herbes de Provence (see lavender), of the fines herbes (see chives) and of French bouquet garni (see parsley). In French cuisine, tarragon is preferred as a fresh herb whenever possible.

Most Near Eastern cuisines make only sporadic use of tarragon, but Georgia (pretty much addicted to fresh herbs) is an exception. Georgian cooking uses a local variety of tarragon that has similar (but weaker) flavour as French tarragon, and it is often employed as a green garnish, and in some dishes as the main flavouring. An example is chakapuli [ჩაქაფული], a rather liquid stew of lamb chops with white wine and water, flavoured with ample chopped fresh tarragon that is simmered for some time with the meat. Usually, the dish acquires a fruity note by addition of unripe t’q’emali plums [ტყემალი], or the tkemali sauce made therefrom. In Georgia, there is also a carbonated softdrink with tarragon flavour (and an artificially green colour).

The rich and pleasant fra­grance of German (or French) tar­ragon makes it a great ad­dition to delicate European poultry dishes, herb sauces based on sour cream or mayon­naise or mush­rooms. Tar­ragon is, however, most popular for salads; fre­quently, it is used to fla­vour vinegar (see dill) or olive oil used for salad dres­sings. For such purposes, tarragon can be combined with capers.

Tarragon is the characteristic flavouring for sauce béarnaise, a famous and justly praised recipe of classic French cuisine. For its preparation, molten butter is mixed with egg yolk and whisked over moderate heat until the sauce thickens. Sauce béarnaise owes its taste to white wine vinegar reduced to about one fifth of its original volume together with shallots (see onion), black pepper corns, tarragon and parsley leaves. The delicately flavoured sauce is mostly suggested to be served with fried, roasted or broiled meat, but it also goes well with boiled vegetables.

Sauce béarnaise may be considered as a more spicy variant of sauce hollandaise; the latter is made only from lemon juice, white wine, yolk and butter. Sauce hollandaise is typically served with boiled asparagus or artichokes. Sauces of this kind are called emulgated sauces, because they consist of fat drops finely dispersed in a water-like fluid (vinegar or lemon juice); such systems are referred to as emulsions by chemists. Another emulgated sauce is mayonnaise, made of vegetable oil, egg yolk and lemon juice (or another slightly acidic liquid).

For their high fat content, emulgated sauces can be flavoured by herbs and spices efficiently, according to the cook’s phantasy. Obvious choices for a herbed hollandaise (or a variant béarnaise) are chervil, dill and basil; less obvious but very effective is lemon myrtle in combination with some black pepper. A great, yet not so well-known recipe is sauce maltaise (Maltese sauce, named after the Mediterranean island of Malta), which has a distinct fruity note from both orange juice and freshly grated orange peel; a hint of nutmeg enhances the aroma. Maltese sauce goes very well with fish and shellfish, but it is also traditional for asparagus. An example for a flavoured mayonnaise is aïoli (see garlic). Italian tuna sauce (salsa tonnata, see capers) is another example of an emulgated sauce, though much varied from the basic mayonnaise recipe.

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