pierre laszlo

Artemisia dracunculus (Asteraceae)

Artemisia dracunculus is the scientific name for tarragon, an herb favored by both chefs and cooks. The name stems from its origins, a grass on the steppes of Central Asia. In Antiquity, it had the reputation of curing snakebite, which explains why the name in English and in many other languages is a cognate of “dragon”. The plant is tall, nearly 3 ft.-high, with multiple highly ramified stems. The leaves are narrow, dark green, smooth and shiny. A perennial, they die off during winter and sprout again in the spring. Tarragon belongs to the same genus, Artemisia, the plant absinthe is made from. The attendant promise of it containing biologically active chemicals is indeed the case. Everyone knows of its use in the kitchen, for example chicken flavored with tarragon is a well-known dish. Tarragon has a number of therapeutic uses as well. As part of ethnopharmacology, Iranian folk medicine used it as an antiepileptic, which may be related to monoterpenoids present in the essential oil having anticonvulsant and sedative activities. Thus, bipolar disorders are possible targets. Alcoholic extracts of tarragon, marketed as Tarralin, are hypoglycemic and thus of benefit to diabetics. Estragole (aka methylchavicol), a natural flavoring substance present in tarragon, presents a genotoxic risk, although muted by the antimutagenic tarragon leaves.

In brief, tarragon not only has a lovely smell and flavor, it won’t do you any harm!