The case of the mysterious tarragon

I mentioned in my last post that I was concerned that the tarragon I seeded wasn’t actually tarragon. I’m still very confused.

This is tarragon:


This is what’s growing from the tarragon seeds I planted (bordered by dill above and parsley to the right):


Here is a shot of the container next to my seeds. The plants are definitely not identical but also aren’t so completely different from one another:


Look at the leaves side by side (store bought plant is on bottom):


See what I mean? Is it or isn’t it tarragon? The one I’m growing is much lighter and a bit less fleshier than the plant from the nursery.

A taste test has also been somewhat inconclusive. I asked recipe editor, Amy Machnak, to chew on a few leaves I plucked from the plants I grew without telling her what she was eating. She (very trustingly) munched away and said she was getting hints of “tarragon, spinach, and arugula.” OK, so it seems that these plants are more tarragon that anything else, but I’m perplexed at their lack of delicious tarragon flavor and their odd appearance. Did I buy bad seeds? Is it something in their growing conditions? Has anything like this ever happened to you, dear gardeners?


  1. Geof

    The single best way to eat zucchini or summer squash is thinly sliced, fried in butter until lightly crisp, with sea salt, cracked black pepper, and minced fresh tarragon. I’m counting the days till my zuch crop comes in.

    May 20, 2009 at 2:41 am
  2. Johanna Silver

    I use tarragon in chicken salad. It’s my boyfriend’s favorite herb. I think I’d like to make tarragon butter. Yum.

    May 8, 2009 at 6:12 pm
  3. cinda gaynor

    and then … they are babies! immature growth is not the same as a mature plant – my understanding is that french is only from cuttings.

    May 8, 2009 at 1:55 pm
  4. Sheila Schmitz

    How are all of you using tarragon, anyway? I love using fresh herbs from the garden, but this one befuddles me.

    May 7, 2009 at 7:41 pm
  5. Geof

    FWIW, I have 6 French Tarragon plugs growing under fluorescent light in my basement right now, many seedlings per plug (not quite to thin).

    Also, my tarragon plant from last year’s garden has survived a Minnesota winter outdoors and is robustly competing with the chives and thyme for most successful returning herb. SO it’s possible.

    May 7, 2009 at 6:22 pm
  6. Patricia

    I want to thank Kirsten; I have never had tarragon spread, mine always freeze first. Determined to keep this one, I shall look forward to more.

    May 7, 2009 at 2:12 am
  7. Kirsten

    All of the above are correct. But you don’t need a “cutting” of tarragon. Your original plant will begin to sprout need plants. I don’t know the precise terms for it, but the new plants are outgrowths of the old one, and will show up a few inches away from the “mother”.

    May 6, 2009 at 4:29 pm
  8. Hank

    Yep. Russian Tarragon. Made that mistake once a few years back. My advice would be to junk it and get a cutting of the French stuff.

    May 6, 2009 at 4:04 am
  9. Eve Fox

    I’ve always heard that you can’t grow true tarragon from seed — only from a cutting, so that may be why they look different.

    May 5, 2009 at 8:05 pm
  10. Ryan

    Yup, Russian tarragon – from seed. It’s similar but not the same. Doesn’t mean you can’t cook with it or use it in a salad though.

    May 5, 2009 at 8:02 pm
  11. Catherine

    I think you have two different varieties here. French tarragon can’t be grown from seed, just from cuttings, and is not as hardy, but has a much better flavour. So I’m guessing that you bought French tarragon from the nursery, and you are growing Russian tarragon from seed. Similar flavour, much easier to grow, but not quite the same thing.

    May 5, 2009 at 3:27 pm

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