Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a species of perennial herb in the sunflower family. It is widespread in the wild across much of Eurasia and North America, and is cultivated for culinary and medicinal purposes in many lands.
One sub-species, Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa, is cultivated for use of the leaves as an aromatic culinary herb. In some other sub-species, the characteristic aroma is largely absent. The species is polymorphic. Informal names for distinguishing the variations include “French tarragon” (best for culinary use), “Russian tarragon” (typically better than wild tarragon but not as good as so-called French tarragon for culinary use), and “wild tarragon” (covers various states).
Tarragon grows to 120–150 cm (47–59 in) tall, with slender branched stems. The leaves are lanceolate, 2–8 cm (0.79–3.15 in) long and 2–10 mm broad, glossy green, with an entire margin. The flowers are produced in small capitulae 2–4 mm diameter, each capitulum containing up to 40 yellow or greenish-yellow florets. French tarragon, however, seldom produces any flowers (or seeds). Some tarragon plants produce seeds that are generally only sterile. Others produce viable seeds. Tarragon has rhizomatous roots and it readily reproduces from the rhizomes. The name “tarragon” is believed to have been borrowed from the Persian name for tarragon which is ترخون tarkhūn.
French tarragon is the variety generally considered best for the kitchen, but is never grown from seed as the flowers are sterile; instead it is propagated by root division. It is normally purchased as a plant, and some care must be taken to ensure that true French tarragon is purchased. A perennial, it normally goes dormant in winter. It likes a hot, sunny spot, without excessive watering.
Russian tarragon (A. dracunculoides L.) can be grown from seed but is much weaker in flavor when compared to the French variety. However, Russian tarragon is a far more hardy and vigorous plant, spreading at the roots and growing over a meter tall. This tarragon actually prefers poor soils and happily tolerates drought and neglect. It is not as strongly aromatic and flavorsome as its French cousin, but it produces many more leaves from early spring onwards that are mild and good in salads and cooked food. Russian tarragon loses what flavor it has as it ages and is widely considered useless as a culinary herb, though it is sometimes used in crafts. The young stems in early spring can be cooked as an asparagus substitute. Horticulturists recommend that Russian tarragon be grown indoors from seed and planted out in the summer. The spreading plants can be divided easily.
A better substitute for French tarragon is Spanish tarragon (Tagetes lucida), also known as Mexican mint marigold, Mexican tarragon, Texas tarragon, or winter tarragon. It is much more reminiscent of French tarragon, with a hint of anise. Although not in the same genus as the other tarragons, Spanish tarragon has a stronger flavor than Russian tarragon that does not diminish significantly with age.
What is Tarragon Essential Oil?
Tarragon essential oil is distilled from the leaves and is generally colourless, perhaps very slightly green. The smell is reminiscent of anise or fennel, and it has a wonderful, slightly spicy, taste. Tarragon, indeed the ‘Little Dragon’, acts powerfully against a range of illnesses and this may be the reason behind this plant being called as the ‘King of herbs’ in France.
With its spicy, sweet-anisic, herby and somewhat celery-like aroma, tarragon essential oil becomes vital in the Ayurvedic healing system that uses aromatics to cure the human mind and body.
Chemical Constituents of Tarragon Essential Oil
A. dracunculusoil contained predominantlyphenylpropanoids such as methyl chavicol (16.2%) and methyl eugenol (35.8%). Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry analysis of the essential oil revealed the presence of trans-anethole (21.1%), α-trans-ocimene (20.6%), limonene (12.4%), α-pinene (5.1%), allo-ocimene (4.8%), methyl eugenol (2.2%), β-pinene (0.8%), α-terpinolene (0.5%), bornyl acetate (0.5%) and bicyclogermacrene (0.5%) as the main components.
Benefits of Tarragon Essential Oil
Some of the health benefits of Tarragon Essential Oil can be attributed to its properties as an antibacterial, anti-cancer, anti-rheumatic, aperitif, circulatory, digestive, deodorant, emmenagogue, stimulant, and vermifuge substance.
Fresh leaves of Tarragon herb and the essential oil extracted from those leaves are said to contain eugenol compound. This compound is responsible for the antibacterial properties and is popularly known as an anesthetic with pain suppressing qualities. It is the presence of the same eugenol compound that makes clove oil as a trusted remedy for toothache. The Wright State University website says that the eugenol compound inhibits the sensory receptors that are responsible for causing pain. A research published in the Iranian Journal of Microbiology on the anti-bacterial activity of Tarragon essential oil proved that “Tarragon essential oil has an antibacterial effect on two important pathogen bacteria (S. aureus and E. coli) and can be applied as a natural preservative in food such as cheese”.
Dr. Jean Valnet talks about the effectiveness of using Tarragon essential oil for treating malignant problems like cancers and tumors. This is attributed to the anti-oxidant properties of Tarragon. A study on the ‘Antioxidant activity of the essential oil of Artemisia drancunculus’ published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry proved that Tarragon essential oil have antioxidant properties that aids in fighting against the free radicals that are often responsible for cataract and certain types of cancer. It is also said that Tarragon herb can assist in slowing down or preventing process of oxidation, which causes cataracts. Tarragon is a notably excellent source of minerals like calcium, manganese, iron, magnesium, copper, potassium, and zinc. Manganese is utilized by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is essential for cellular respiration (co-factors for cytochrome-oxidase enzyme) and blood cell production.
There are two main causes behind rheumatism and arthritis. The first is improper circulation of blood and lymph, especially in the limbs, and the second is the accumulation of toxins, such as uric acid, in body. Therefore, it is obvious what the cure would be. It should primarily be a circulatory, that is, it should increase or facilitate circulation. Secondly, it should be a detoxifier, meaning that it should help remove toxins from the body. Tarragon Essential Oil helps with the first solution. It has good circulatory properties and increases circulation, which brings warmth to the affected parts of the body and it does not let uric acid accumulate in any one place. It also helps detoxification by stimulating urination and excretion, which both help to remove toxins.
This essential oil stimulates the secretion of digestive juices into the stomach, which increases appetite. This starts right from the mouth, where the production of saliva is stimulated. Down below, gastric juices and bile are secreted into the stomach, which speeds up digestion of the food that is already present, if any, in the stomach. This helps to empty the stomach, which then increases appetite.
The Essential Oil of Tarragon improves the circulation of blood and lymph and helps in the proper distribution of nutrients, oxygen, hormones, and enzymes throughout the body. Furthermore, it does not let toxins accumulate at particular places, such as the joints.
Tarragon essential oil speeds up digestion by stimulating the secretion of digestive juices (gastric juices such as acids and bile) into the stomach, which helps break down food into various nutrients and stimulates peristaltic motion in the intestines. This facilitates the motion of food through the whole digestive system.
The spicy smell of tarragon is used to keep body odour away. It also inhibits the growth of microbes on the skin, which further reduces body odour.
This essential oil eases menstruation, clears obstructions in menses, and regulates periods. Furthermore, it also gives relief from the problems like abdominal pain, nausea, fatigue, and annoyance.
It stimulates the brain, nervous, digestive, circulatory, and endocrinal systems. This means that it stimulates the whole metabolic system and as a result, growth and immunity are stimulated.
The toxicity of this oil kills any worms in the body. These include roundworms and tapeworms that are found in the intestines, hookworms that can live in any part of the body, and even maggots on wounds. It is alright to use this essential oil externally, but extreme care should be taken when taking it orally, since it is a toxic substance.
Uses of Tarragon Essential Oil
A number of Tarragon essential oil uses are suggested here to guide you in any practical remedy applications.
- Gently massaging your body with 3 to 4 drops of tarragon essential oil blended with mild carrier oils like coconut oil gives warmth to your body and aids in controlling vata imbalances like poor blood circulation, while promoting the discharge of toxic accumulations through urine with its diuretic properties.
- You can also use Tarragon essential oil as a warm compress or add few drops to your bath tub for treating pain and inflammation associated with rheumatism.
- Using tarragon essential oil as a massage oil (as a tummy rub) or in a hot compress or diluting few drops of this oil in your bathing water is said to support your digestive system and kill intestinal worms like hook worms and round worms.
- Add 1 or 2 drops of tarragon essential oil to a cup of warm water and use it as a gargle for alleviating your toothache.
Precautions for Tarragon Essential Oil
Tarragon essential oil is poisonous due to the presence of estragole, which is another name for methyl chavicol. Hence, it should not be given to young children and pregnant women. Methyl eugenol, is closely related to estragole, otherwise known as methyl chavicol, the only difference being a second ring methoxy group in the former. Methyl eugenol is a potential liver carcinogen however hepatic tissue damage generally occurs at higher doses (>10mg/kg body weight) and must be recurrent, i.e. long-term administration of methyl eugenol is required (daily for > 3 months). In the short term (< three months) daily high doses of methyl eugenol (up to 300mg/kg body weight) can cause toxicity but not carcinogenicity. Newborns are more at risk from the effects of methyl eugenol than adults and hence essential oils rich in this constituent should be avoided with this population.
Blending for Tarragon Essential Oil
Tarragon essential oil blends well with carrot seed, Clary sage, Neroli, Roman chamomile, lavender, lime, Peppermint, Bay Laurel, Petitgrain and rosewood.