614 Tagetes lucidaCommon Names: Mexican tarragon, Texas tarragon, pericon, sweet mace Family: Asteraceae (aster/daisy Family)
Mexican tarragon is a half-hardy semi-woody sub-shrub that grows 18-30 in (46-76 cm) tall. The plant is bushy with many smooth, upright, unbranched stems. The leaves are linear to oblong, about 3 in (7.6 cm) long, and shiny medium green, not blue-green as in real French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa). Bruised leaves have a sweet tarragon-like smell with overtones of anise. In late summer Mexican tarragon bears clusters of small yellow flower heads on the ends of the stems. The flower heads are about 0.5 in (1.3 cm) across and have 3-5 golden-yellow ray florets. They continue to bloom late into autumn.
Mexican tarragon, Tagetes lucida, is originally from Guatemala and the Mexican state of Oaxaca.
CultureCarefree and easy to grow. No pests. I have had a Mexican tarragon bush in a corner of my garden for the last 7 years. It dies to the ground after a freeze, but comes back every spring. Cut off blossoms as they wither to increase flowering. Light: Full sun or partial shade. Moisture: Needs well-drained soil. Is fairly drought tolerant. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. Hard freezes will kill it to the ground, but it comes back in spring. Mexican tarragon is grown as an annual outdoors north of zone 8. It often is grown in containers and brought indoors for the winter. Propagation: Usually propagated from stem cuttings, which root easily. You also can divide the roots.
Mexican tarragon is an attractive landscape ornamental. It isn't gaudy or flashy. Use it in perennial borders where its shiny green leaves and little golden flowers make a polite, subtle statement. It can tolerate partial shade. Mexican tarragon is an important part of the herb garden. Use the flowers of Mexican tarragon fresh in salads, and the leaves as a substitute for French tarragon. The flavor is said to be very similar to the harder-to-grow French tarragon. Snip off the last few inches from new fast-growing tips. Dried leaves will retain some of their distinctive sweet aroma, but are not as good. Better to freeze or store in vinegar. As with any aromatic herb, add to soups, sauces, chicken dishes, etc. near the end of cooking or the flavors will be lost to evaporation. A soothing, aromatic herbal tea is made from the leaves. Mexican tarragon also is used in herbal vinegars.
Many chefs are now using Mexican tarragon as a substitute for French tarragon, especially in winter when the real thing is hard to get, and in hot climates where French tarragon just won't grow. Mexican tarragon is, however, a little stronger than the real thing and has more of an anise flavor. The pretty yellow flowers are a tasty and beautiful addition to fresh green salads. I put a few leaves in chicken soup. The flavor is an important component in remoulade, tartar and bearnaise sauces, and in French salad dressing.
Steve Christman 1/2/00; updated 2/27/04