French Tarragon vs Russian Tarragon vs Mexican Tarragon: What’s the Difference

by Corinne Mossati

Can you tell the differences between French tarragon, Russian tarragon and Mexican tarragon? Find out in this handy article about a culinary herb worth growing in the kitchen garden.

French Tarragon

French Tarragon

French Tarragon – Photo © The Gourmantic Garden

French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) also known as estragon is a perennial herb in the family Asteraceae. The culinary herb with blue-green leaves favours full sun, well-drained soil and grows around 40 cm tall. Although it is perennial, it dies down in winter to the point that it can disappear completely but springs back to life in spring.

As the herb doesn’t produce viable seeds, it can only be propagated by taking tip cuttings early in spring or by dividing the roots.

French tarragon makes a great addition to a kitchen garden as it can be used in a myriad of ways. Add it to vinegar, olive oil, salad dressing, use it with chicken, fish, vegetables and don’t forget to add it to bearnaise and hollandaise sauce.

Flavour wise, it has a mild aniseed flavour and it’s a little sweeter and more flavoursome than Russian tarragon. It is an all-rounder that is a favourite in my garden.

Russian Tarragon

Russian Tarragon

Russian Tarragon – Photo © The Gourmantic Garden

Russian Tarragon (Artemesia dracunculoides) is also a perennial culinary herb in the Asteraceae family. It grows up to 1.5 m tall and dies down in winter. While it shares similar growing conditions to its French counterpart, unlike French tarragon, it can be propagated from seed.

When it comes to flavour, you’ll find opinions vary. Some describe it as less sweet than French tarragon ranging from a mild flavour to a bitter undertone. I find it to be rather tasteless and as such, I avoid growing it or using it. If you choose to grow it, it’s best to harvest and use the leaves while young before the bitter and tasteless tones start to dominate.

Mexican Tarragon

Mexican Tarragon

Mexican Tarragon – Photo © The Gourmantic Garden

Mexican Tarragon (Tagetes lucida) also known as winter tarragon, sweet mace and sweet marigold is a perennial herb in the Asteraceae family. It grows up to 80 cm tall and favours full sun well-drained soil. Native to Mexico and Central America, the plant tolerates a hot climate better than its counterparts and can be propagated from seed from early spring to mid-summer or by division.

Towards the end of summer, it produces small, golden yellow flowers which turn to seed. Similar in shape to to marigold, the seeds are long slivers with black and white at each end.

Mexican tarragon can be substituted for French tarragon as its sweet, aniseed-like flavour is very close. If you’re in a hot climate, it’s well worth growing and it rewards you with beautiful flowers for the pollinators.

French Tarragon Trivia

How do you tell the difference between French tarragon and Russian tarragon? Chew on a leaf and if you get a numbing effect on the tip of your tongue, it’s French tarragon.

Want to Know More about Tarragon?

You’ll find more information on how to grow tarragon, which varieties to try, how to pair them with food and spirits, and how to use French tarragon in cocktails including a full recipe in my 260+ page digital book GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN available now.


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