Texas Tarragon – Gardening Tips from the Culinary View
as recommended by Michael Vidrine
Some of the herbs we would like to grow in our area aren’t well adapted to our climate – especially our hot summers. French tarragon is one of those wonderful herbs that have a hard time here. But don’t despair, Texas Tarragon is a good substitute.
Texas Tarragon (Tagetes lucida) – AKA Mexican Mint Marigold, Yerba Anise, and Santa Maria – is a perennial plant native to Mexico and Central America. The plant has been documented as being used for thousands of years as a medicinal and culinary herb – even longer than regular tarragon. The Aztecs used the herb as a ritual incense and in the drink chocolatl. The Maya used it as an additive to tobacco and many cultures smoked it for its psychotropic effects. The plant grows wild in its native range and is still used medicinally there. As a tea, the plant reportedly helps with digestive problems and reducing the severity of hangovers.
Texas tarragon forms a small shrub from 18 to 30 inches tall. Some forms are upright while others are bushier. In late summer the plants begin producing small yellow flowers which are very attractive to bees and other pollen and nectar seeking insects. The flowers are also edible and taste much like the leaves. The herb is also known as “herb of the clouds” for the flowers’ cloud like appearance and the plants relaxing medicinal properties. The plant does best in full sun but will take some light shade. It is tolerant of different soil types as long as it is well drained. It is also drought tolerant but will grow best with some watering during the hottest part of the summer. Light fertilizing once growth starts in the spring will help produce more robust growth. Texas tarragon does well as a pot plant but will require more regular watering. The plant will often freeze back during our zone 8 winters but will regrow from the roots especially if well mulched. The plant can be started from seed or from nursery stock. Mature plants will self-seed providing the gardener with more plants to grow or share. Stems touching the ground will also take root and mature plants can be dug when dormant and divided. Harvesting the stems and flowers frequently keeps the plant producing more tender growth. The leaves can be dried for long term storage, but the flavor will be significantly weaker than the fresh herb.
Texas tarragon has a scent and flavor similar to French tarragon – a light licorice with a hint of citrus and pine. Heat drives off much of the delicate flavor of the herb, so it is best added at the last minute to cooked dishes. The fresh herb is a nice addition to salads and dressings and the flower petals are especially decorative sprinkled in fresh dishes and as a garnish. Like its French tarragon counterpart, Texas tarragon is great in marinades, vinegars, syrups, and oils and sprinkled over egg dishes and potato salad. The herb goes well with meats – especially poultry – and mild flavored fish. It makes a nice change of pace from basil for tomato and pepper dishes, and it is also nice with other warm season vegetables like green beans, summer squash and asparagus.
Besides its use as an herb, Texas tarragon is a nice ornamental for the landscape. I suggest pairing the plants yellow flowers with trailing purple lantana or the light blue flowers of rosemary. These plants all enjoy similar growing conditions and the color contrast makes each stand out a bit more.
Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor