Tarragon has been used throughout the centuries as both a cooking spice and a powerful herbal remedy for many common ailments. Though today tarragon is mainly used as a cooking ingredient, its medicinal properties cannot be overlooked. The plant can be prepared in many forms to treat various symptoms.It is available at many health food stores and groceries stores prepared as a tea, infusion, tincture, in the form of an essential oil, powdered, and the leaves are sold both fresh and dried. The leaves and the root of the tarragon plant are the main parts used for medicinal purposes.
There are two types of tarragon, French and Russian. The Russian tarragon, while milder in flavor is more popular as an herbal cure because it is easily grown and cultivated from seeds. French tarragon, also called “true tarragon”, has a stronger flavor and can only be grown from clippings and is the preferred type for cooking with. Tarragon is known for its nutritional value and is a good source of iron, calcium and and magnesium. It is also high in vitamin A and C as well as a source of potassium when used in large quantities.
Both varieties of tarragon prefer sunny, dry areas such as are found in the Western United States, Southern Asia and Siberia. It is a green perennial shrub with a branched root system with brown, coiled roots remarkable for their resemblence to a cluster of gnarled snakes which is denoted in its more common name of “little dragon”. The branching roots produce bushy branched stems which grow from 2-4 feet tall. Cultivators need to divide the roots regularly to avoid the plant strangling itself. It produces small, drooping whittish green or yellow flowers which bloom from May to June.
The use of this plant is rooted in antiquity. It was grown and cooked by itself as a vegetable for centuries. Hippocrates records its use as a simple “one herb” cure all as early as 500 BC. It is believed to have originated in Siberia and traveled with the invading Mongolians into Europe around the 13th century AD. In ancient times it was believed to be a cure for snake bites and venomous insects by drawing the posion from the body. It was also used to treat Rabies.
Prepared as a tea, the tarragon plant is used to calm the nerves, as a treatment for insomnia, to relieve depression and even as a home remedy for intestinal parasites. Tarragon is very useful in aiding the digestive process and is often used as a tea taken before meals. Fresh leaves can be crushed and added to meals as well as powdered tarragon for promotion of digestive juices and it’s properties help aid the liver in the creation of bile which eases digestive disorders and aids in the elimination process.
The ancient Greeks chewed on the leaves of a tarragon plant to relieve toothaches and pain from mouth sores. This is still a common herbal remedy used today and is recognized by modern science as a valid alternative to pain medication for such conditions as it has numbing properties which help relieve pain.
Tarragon has widely been used in Europe since the middle ages and is still popular today as a treatment for menstrual cramps, to aid in the onset of menstrual flow, as well as a remedy for stomach cramps, fatigue, and to stimulate the appetite. For those with dietary restriction, it can be used as a spice to replace salt. Since it is well known for stimulating appetite, it is often used as an herbal aid in the treatment of anorexia and bulimia. It’s analgesic properties are excellent for promoting relief from aches and pains. Tarragon can be used as a mild natural laxative to relieve constipation and is often touted as a good cure for colic in babies if used sparsely in a tea form.
Topical uses of tarragon include balms for rashes and skin irritations. Crushed leaves can be made into an ointment to treat minor cuts and scrapes and prevent infection. It can be made into a poltice for the treatment of arthritis pain in the joints. Tarragon has been used as a folk remedy for the prevention of herpes; though the medical community is still unsure of its true value in this regard. The roots and leaves are used as an anti toxin and are taken in the form of tea or crushed into food to aid the body in relieving itself of toxins.
Tarragon is a favorite spice in French cuisine. It is used as the main ingredient in Bernaise sauce used in many fine gourmet French dishes. When cooking with tarragon, remember these few tips to help spice up your dishes and give them the flavor of perfection. Heat will intensify the flavor of tarragon so use sparingly when flavoring to taste. Fresh tarragon has a greater intensity of flavor than dried, since drying tarragon causes its oils to dissipate over time. Tarragon has a bittersweet flavor that suggests a hint of licorise so can easily overpower a dish if not used carefully. Homecooking@about.com has some great tips on how to store and preserve tarragon for use over time, as well as some fantastic recipies exemplifying the best usage of this herb in cooking.