Tarragon

Tarragon is a hardy perennial herb cultivated for the use of its aromatic leaves in seasoning, salads, etc., and in the preparation of Tarragon vinegar. French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is the variety most often used in recipes. Its flavor is sweeter and its leaves are more delicate than its relative Russian tarragon, (Artemesia dracunculoides), which tends to have coarser, paler leaves and a bitter, inferior flavor. Although tarragon is most closely associated with French and European cuisine, it was not cultivated in Europe until the late 1500's, when the Tudor family introduced it into the royal gardens, from its origins in Siberia. Later, when the colonists settled in America, they brought along tarragon for their kitchen gardens.

Tarragon has a long and venerable history as a healing plant; it prevents certain cancers, heals herpes outbreaks, and fights the flu. In fact tarragon contains 72 potential cancer preventives, according to James A. Duke, PhD, a botanist retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and author of The CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. The ancient Greeks as a remedy for toothache used tarragon. Today we know that tarragon contains an anesthetic chemical, eugenol, which is the major constituent of anesthetic clove oil, making its use for temporary pain relief understandable. This popular culinary herb was used by the Romans to treat snakebite. In medieval times it was common to place a sprig in one's shoes to soothe aching feet. Tarragon does have mild antifungal properties. Useful for digestive problems and as an appetite stimulant; tarragon tea is also used to cure insomnia.

Tarragon will do best in a sunny, dry location. Too much moisture will cause root rot. So make sure the soil drains well. If you live in a hot climate, provide your tarragon with a little shade during the hottest part of the day if you can for the best results. In northern zones, mulch it well in the winter to help protect its shallow roots from the cold. Dry leaves or peat mulch covered with plastic is usually sufficient. Top growth should be cut back in early fall.

The foliage dies back in winter. A young plant can be potted up and brought indoors for the winter, however it will require lots of sun. The roots should be lifted and divided every two years. Propagation is from root division or six inch cuttings. Seeds offered are usually that of Russian tarragon, which is bitter and coarse. Unfortunately, whereas the Russian variety spreads and reproduces easily, French tarragon cannot be propagated by seed but must be cultivated by cuttings and root divisions.

There is another variety of tarragon which makes an attractive addition to the garden, as well as a welcome ingredient in the kitchen. It is actually a member of the marigold family (Tagetes lucida), commonly called Mexican marigold or winter tarragon. Given full sun and good drainage, the plant grows to a height of about 2 1/2 feet and is quite bushy. In the late fall it produces a lavish display of tiny golden flowers at the end of its long, erect stems.

While Tarragon requires a long growing season to flower and produce seed, a good harvest of aromatic herb may be obtained regardless of the length of your summer. Plant 1 foot apart. With the delicate flowers and contrasting rich green tapered leaves, these branches make interesting additions to floral arrangements, especially with the fragrance of the herb itself adding an extra element to enjoy. The stems also add the perfect finishing touch to a decorative bottle of herb vinegar.

Harvest sprigs of tarragon through the summer but stop harvesting in fall to discourage winter damage. When using tarragon in cooked dishes, it is best to add it at the end, as heat tends to decrease its flavor. Unlike most of the other herbs, tarragon loses the potency of its flavor when dried. Fresh Tarragon possesses an essential volatile oil, chemically identical with that of Anise, which becomes lost in the dried herb. This may be one reason it is so frequently preserved in vinegar, which captures tarragon's essence and creates a tasty condiment that can be used in dressings.

To make Tarragon vinegar, fill a wide mouthed bottle with the freshly gathered leaves, picked just before the herb flowers, on a dry day. Pick the leaves of the stalks wash and dry a little in a warm spot. Then place in a jar, cover with vinegar, and allow to stand some hours, then strain through a flannel jelly bag and cork down in the bottles. The best white vinegar should be used.  

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Tomato hornworms are large (2 to 3 inch long when fully grown), green caterpillars with white stripes on the body. A horn protrudes from the top rear end of the worm. Tomato hornworms feed on the leaves and fruit. Several worms on one plant can quickly defoliate it and ruin developing fruit. Because their green coloring so closely resembles tomato foliage and stems, they are difficult to see. Handpick in cooler parts of the day or use suggested biological insecticides. If you see hornworms with small, white cocoons protruding, leave them alone. These structures are the pupae of parasitic insects that help control the hornworm population and the individual wearing them is already doomed.

 

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Place open-bottom compost containers on a sheet of galvanized wire hardware cloth to prevent rodents from burrowing into the pile.

Avoid adding herbicide-treated grass clippings, meat scraps, pet feces, perennial and seed-bearing weeds, and diseased plants to your compost pile. 

Brandie

"A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing, and the lawn mower is broken."

 
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