From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia
Common Name: French Tarragon
Scientific Name: Artemisia dracunculus sativa
Thomas Jefferson first encounted tarragon while in Paris. When he returned to the U.S., he found it hard to find. He made several inquiries to locate seeds, but seeds were scarce since plants used for cooking and vinegar rarely made seeds. People propagated it from by cuttings and root division. In 1806, Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon sent a shipment of roots on April 30th. He also requested roots from McMahon in 1809, as well.
He planted it in the bed at the Northwest border on April 12th, but they "failed." In 1812, he transplanted it in Square XVII of the garden. He also documented the planting of tarragon in 1813 and in 1814.
The species Artemisia dracunculus was in English gardens since the sixteenth century and in American gardens before the Revolution.
French Tarragon is a hardy perennial herb with edible, aromatic foliage. Its popularity with Jefferson most likely comes from the fact that this herb is essential in French cuisine like Bearnaise sauce, vinegars, and in fish and chicken dishes. An example of this is Jefferson's vinaigre d'estragon where three pints of vinegar are added to one quart of partially dried tarragon leaves. After one week, it is strained, bottled, and corked.
Primary Source References
1793 March 10. (Jefferson to J.P.P. Derieux). "The estragon (called in English Tarragon) is little known in America."
1807 December 22. (Jefferson to J.P. Reibelt). "Your favor of Oct. 25 with the seed of the wild Estrangon came to hand last night for which I now return you my thanks."
1812 June 1. (Jefferson to J. Peter Derieux). "Your favor of May st is just received, with the seed & root of the Tarragon, for which I return my thanks. the root had become entirley dry and without any principle of vegetation left in it. this was less important, as I had some years ago succeeded in obtaining the plant from N. Orleans where it grows wild."
- ↑ This section is based on a Center for Historic Plants Information Sheet and Peter Hatch, "Herbs," Monticello Research Report, 2-3.
- ↑ Alice M. Coates, Flowers and their Histories (London: Black, 1968), 280.
- ↑ Betts, Garden Book, 318.
- ↑ Ibid, 388.Manuscript and transcription at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
- ↑ Ibid, 470.
- ↑ Ibid, 500. Manuscript and transcription at the Massachusetts Historical Society
- ↑ Ibid, 522. Manuscript and transcription at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
- ↑ Coates, 277.
- ↑ Hatch, 4.
- ↑ Please note that this list should not be considered comprehensive.
- ↑ PTJ:, 25:347.
- ↑ Betts, Garden Book, 313. Polygraph Copy at the Library of Congress.
- ↑ Ibid, 322. Copy at the Library of Congress.
- ↑ Ibid, 356.
- ↑ Ibid, 402. Copy at the Library of Congress.
- ↑ Ibid, 488. Peter Hatch notes that French Tarragon does not do well in high heat and humidity, but the Russian variety does. Hatch, 3.
- Look for more of Jefferson’s references in his Garden Book
- McMahon, Bernard. The American Gardener’s Calendar, 1806 (Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1997). See pp. 11, 198, and 511.
- Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants