The name "tarragon" is thought to have derived from the Arabic word "tarkhun", which means "little dragon". It was believed that tarragon could stave off snakes and dragons, as well as cure snake bites, which is where the name is thought to have derived.
Tarragon is probably most widely used and most popular in French cuisine. It is one of the main components of "fines herbes" and Bearnaise sauce and forms a perfect partnership with many chicken and fish dishes in particular. There are two types of tarragon, French tarragon and Russian tarragon. French tarragon is the best type for cooking as it has a much stronger flavor, however it is harder to grow and must be cultivated from clippings and not from seed. Russian tarragon, on the other hand, has a milder and weaker flavor yet it is very easy to grow and can be grown from seed. As tarragon has quite a strong flavor, the Russian type may be better for salads, where an intense flavor is not necessarily required.
Tarragon is native to Eastern Europe and Asia, although nowadays it is primarily cultivated and produced in France. There are very few records of tarragon being used in ancient times, although it has been said that the Greeks used tarragon to treat toothache. Recently studies proved that one of the components of tarragon is eugenol, which is in fact a strong anesthetic and pain reliever.
Tarragon did not really become popular until the 16th century. It was brought to Europe during the Middle Ages by the Crusaders who returned from the Middle East. There it was employed by the Arabs in medicine, who used it to treat anaemia, stimulate digestion and remedy bad breath.
Whilst fresh herbs are usually only used in small quantities, particularly when they are strong in flavor and only a little is needed to flavor certain dishes, tarragon is still an excellent source of iron, calcium and manganese. In larger quantities, tarragon is an important source of potassium, magnesium and Vitamins A and C. It also contains trace amounts of copper, zinc and phosphorous. Fresh tarragon is best for cooking, as dried tarragon is extremely weak in flavor. The French variety is more flavorful, although sometimes only the Russian variety is available.
Fresh tarragon should be stored in the refrigerator and wrapped in a barely damp paper towel placed in a plastic bag. This should keep the herb fresh for about five days.