French Tarragon and the Russian Impostor – Laidback Gardener:
There are, in fact, two tarragons on the market: French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus sativa) and Russian tarragon (A. dracunculus dracunculoides, sometimes simply written A. dracunculoides).
The two were derived from the same wild plant, but are definitely not equivalent, especially when it comes to cooking.
French tarragon is the aromatic herb made famous by French cuisine.
It is one of the four official “fines herbes” recommended by French chef Auguste Escoffier in the early 20th century for use in egg, fish, and chicken dishes, the other three being parsley (Petroselinum crispum), chives (Allium schoenoprasum) and chervil (Anthriscus cerfefolium), a quartet still promoted by chefs of the French persuasion worldwide.
French tarragon has a distinctive taste: a very intense mixture of anise and camphor with its own special touch.
It’s strong enough that you only need a pinch when cooking.
Its lanceolate leaves are medium green and borne on a shrubby-looking plant about 24 to 30 inches (60 to 80 cm) high.
You have to propagate French tarragon vegetatively, by stem cuttings, layering or division.
Over all, it’s a fairly short-lived plant: even under ideal conditions, you need to take cuttings every few years to keep it going.
Russian tarragon is an impostor.
It has little taste and is not considered of much use in cooking.
You’ll find seed packets of tarragon, for example, but they necessarily contain seeds of Russian tarragon, since French tarragon doesn’t produce viable seed.
Nursery shelves are sometimes filled with pots of Russian tarragon, because they can grow it inexpensively from seed, which makes it much more profitable than cutting-grown French tarragon.
Abundant flowers usually indicate Russian tarragon.
Pull off two or three small leaves and munch on them. If the taste is intense, in fact, out and out bitter, it’s French tarragon.
If they have little to no taste, it’s Russian tarragon.
And be forewarned: Russian tarragon can become invasive.
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