Artemisia dracunculus, tarragon, is referred to as “little dragon” because of its serpentine root system, long and curvy, as are its branched stems. This perennial plant goes dormant in winter and is one of the first herbs to re-appear in early Spring. Originated in Asia, it was cultivated by ancient Egyptians.
Tarragon is the herb favored in Senese cooking, unusual in Italy since it is often thought of as a French flavoring and is used in the classic French fines herbes mixture of tarragon, chervil, chives and parsley. Yet it was Catherine Benincasa (1347-1380 A.D.) canonized by Pope Pius II and declared Patroness Saint of Italy in 1939 by Pope Pius XII, who introduced tarragon to France. You can visit the serene cloister with her house, her birthplace, in Siena’s Medieval Historic Center.
Tradition: In early folklore, this herb was believed to cure venomous bites because of its serpentine root and branch system – the belief in treating similarities.
Applications: It is a fine herb with wide range of attributes, ingested for giving vigor and relieving melancholy, for assisting women with menstrual cycle problems, and improving digestion.
Culinary Uses: Tarragon is excellent with asparagus and peas, lettuce salads, eggs, chicken, rabbit and seafood especially halibut, bass, snapper and lobster. Immersing its branches in white wine vinegar for a few days makes a delightful vinegar. With its pleasing flavor, it makes a good substitute for salt, so helpful for anyone needing to reduce salt intake. Next time you visit Siena, Tuscany, make sure to try the delicious braised chicken or rabbit with tarragon sauce.