French Tarragon

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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French Tarragon
French Tarragon

Common Name: French Tarragon[1]

Scientific Name: Artemisia dracunculus sativa

Description: Hardy perennial herb; Grown for edible, aromatic foliage

Size: Forms a clump to 2 feet tall and with a similar width

Cultural Information: Prefers full sun and well-drained, moderately rich soil

USDA Zones: 3 through 7

Historical Notes: French Tarragon was Thomas Jefferson's favorite herb. He made several inquiries to locate it in 1806, and was sent a shipment of roots by Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon on April 30th of that year.[2] The species Artemisia dracunculus was in American gardens before the Revolution. While this may have been the inferior Russian Tarragon, which has no culinary use, the type sold here is the selected, sterile clone so essential in French cuisine. It is used in Bearnaise sauce, vinegars, and in fish and chicken dishes. Like other wormwoods, French Tarragon has a stimulating effect on the whole digestive system.

Primary Source References[3]

1806 April 25. (Jefferson to Bernard McMahon). "TH:J has been many years endeavoring to get some seed of the Tarragon, but without success."[4]

1806 July 12. (Bernard McMahon to Jefferson). "I am desirous to know if the Tarragon plants have succeeded, as, if necessary, I will send you a further supply."[5]

1809 January 17. (Bernard McMahon to Jefferson). "I wish to know if the Tattagon roots I sent you have succeeded as I can send you a supply in due time this season if they failed."[6]


  1. This section is based on Peggy Cornett, CHP Information Sheet.
  2. Betts, Garden Book, 318.
  3. Please note that this list should not be considered comprehensive.
  4. Ibid, 313. Polygraph Copy at the Library of Congress.
  5. Ibid, 322. Copy at the Library of Congress.
  6. Ibid, 402. Copy at the Library of Congress.

Further Sources