(Artemisia Dracunculus, Linn.), a fairly hardy, herbaceous
rather shrubby perennial of the Compositae, supposed to be a native of
southern Russia, Siberia, and Tartary, cultivated for scarcely more
than 500 years for its leaves and tender shoots. In all civilized
countries its popular name, like its specific name, means dragon, though
why it should be so called is not clear.
n.--The plant has numerous branching stems, which bear
lance-shaped leaves and nowadays white, sterile flowers. Formerly the
flowers were said to be fertile. No one should buy the seed offered as
tarragon. It is probably that of a related plant which resembles
tarragon in everything except flavor--which is absent! Tagetes lucida,
which may be used as a substitute for true tarragon, is easily
propagated by seed and can be procured from seedsmen under its own name.
As tarragon flowers appear to be perfect, it is possible that some
plants may produce a few seeds, and that plants raised from these seeds
may repeat the wonder. Indeed, a variety which naturally produces seed
may thus be developed and disseminated. Here is one of the possible
opportunities for the herb grower to benefit his fellow-men.
Cultivation.--At present tarragon is propagated only by cuttings,
layers and division. There is no difficulty in either process. The plant
prefers dry, rather poor soil, in a warm situation. In cold climates it
should be partially protected during the winter to prevent alternate
freezing and thawing of both the soil and the plant. In moist and heavy
soil it will winterkill. Strawy litter or conifer boughs will serve the
purpose well. Half a dozen to a dozen plants will supply the needs of a
family. As the plants spread a good deal and as they grow 15 to 18
inches tall, or even more, they should be set in rows 18 to 24 inches
apart each way. In a short time they will take possession of the ground.
Uses.--The tender shoots and the young leaves are often used in
salads, and with steaks, chops, etc., especially by the French. They are
often used as an ingredient in pickles. Stews, soups, croquettes, and
other meat preparations are also flavored with tarragon, and for
flavoring fish sauces it is especially esteemed.
Probably the most popular way it is employed, however, is as a decoction
in vinegar. For this purpose, the green parts are gathered preferably in
the morning and after washing are placed in jars and covered with the
best quality vinegar for a few days. The vinegar is then drawn off as
needed. In France, the famous vinegar of Maille is made in this way.
The leaves may be dried in the usual way if desired. For this purpose
they are gathered in midsummer. A second cutting may be made in late
September or early October. Tarragon oil, which is used for perfuming
toilet articles, is secured by distilling the green parts, from 300 to
500 pounds of which yield one pound of oil.