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Herb of the Month

by Chuck Voigt    

TARRAGON (Artemisia dracunculus)

To be connected with dragons is an honor worthy of this culinary herb, its name tarra-gon deriving from the French estragon and the Latin dracunculus, a little dragon. The dragon connection may have come from tarragon’s fiery tank or from its serpent-like roots.

“Dra-gon” herbs were believed to cure the bites of venomous creatures, but tarragon’s primary use today is culinary. It will also sweeten the breath, act as a soporific, and, if chewed before taking medicine, dull the taste, according to the thirteenth-century Arabian botanist, Ibnal Baithar. [Also, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, putting tarragon in your shoes before a long walk will give you strength!] (Complete Book of Herbs by Lesley Bremness)

In spite of John Gerard’s complaint that “neither do we know what other use this herbe hath,” tarragon’s unusual flavor is of great value. It enhances jellied consommé, fish, and chicken.

Perhaps it is best known as the flavoring ingredient of tarragon vinegar, which is used for salads and marinades. You may use chopped tarragon with melted butter to add zest to bland vegetables and broiled meats. It is a necessary ingredient of Béarnaise Sauce and is one of the fines herbes. You may add it to many sauces and dressings for use in green and sea-food salads, and you will find it delicious with mayonnaise on cold salmon. Omelet with chopped tarragon is special, as are scrambled eggs. Put it in the bottom of the cup when shirring eggs, and chopped tarragon will give this Sunday morning treat an extra dimension. It is also wonderful in spring snipped over buttered new potatoes. (Kitchen Gardens by Mary Mason Campbell)

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