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Texas tarragon is a leafy herb with thin and oblong, blade-shaped leaves that average 6 to 7 centimeters in length and taper to a point. The plant has an upright nature, with its green leaves growing in pairs along woody stems, sometimes giving the herb a bushy appearance. The leaves are dark green, narrow, and pliable with lightly serrated edges and showcase a prominent vein that extends lengthwise across the surface. Texas tarragon has the aroma and flavor of sweet licorice with hints of pine and citrus. The taste is very similar to French tarragon and contains a complex blend of anise and mint nuances with warm sweet tones. In addition to the leaves, small golden-yellow, five-petal flowers bloom abundantly in the fall, clustered atop upright stems. The flowers are also edible and have the same scent and flavor as the leaves.
Texas tarragon is available year-round, with a peak season in the spring through summer. The herb also produces brightly colored flowers in the fall.
Texas tarragon, botanically classified as Tagetes lucida, is an aromatic, perennial herb that reaches 60 to 91 centimeters in height, belonging to the Asteraceae family. The bushy plant is an ancient herb of Central America and Mexico, where it has been used for centuries in culinary, medicinal, and cultural practices. Texas tarragon is also found in the Southern United States in the present-day, favored by home gardeners for its subtle licorice-like flavor and aroma. The herb is known by many other names, including Mexican tarragon, Mexican Mint Marigold, Yerba Anise, and Santa Maria, and is cultivated as a French tarragon substitute in hot, arid climates. Texas tarragon is also a hardy home garden cultivar, able to be grown in pots, containers, and in the ground. The plant is resistant to heat, drought, and some humidity, adapting well to the rugged, hot, and dry nature of the Southwestern United States and Mexico.
Texas tarragon is a source of vitamins A and C to reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system and contains antioxidants to protect the cells against free radical damage. The herb also provides essential oils that are extracted from the leaves and the flowers. These essential oils contain phytochemicals known as terpenes, including cineol, which is the compound responsible for the herb’s eucalyptus-like scent. It also contains other aromatic compounds such as estragole, ocimene, and phellandrene. The volatile oils and compounds in Texas tarragon give the herb antioxidant, sedative, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. In Central America and Mexico, Texas tarragon was used among indigenous peoples as a remedy for stomachaches, digestive issues, colds, coughs, and fevers.
Texas tarragon has a subtle licorice-like flavor and aroma well suited for both savory or sweet preparations and is typically added fresh at the end of the cooking process to prevent wilting. The leaves have a delicate nature, quickly losing flavor when heated, and are best sprinkled as a finishing herb in dishes. Texas tarragon is most famously known for its similar flavor to French tarragon and is used as a substitute in recipes when French tarragon isn’t available. The fresh leaves can be chopped and tossed into salads as a flavorful addition, minced and infused into dressings, marinades, vinegar, oils, and syrups, or finely sliced and stirred into soups and stews. Texas tarragon can also be utilized as an edible garnish for meat dishes, incorporated as a flavoring in homemade pickles, stuffed into peppers, or sprinkled over egg dishes and potato salads. In addition to savory dishes, Texas tarragon can be used as a unique flavoring in desserts such as sugar cookies, brownies, and pounds cakes. The flowers are also edible and can be added to salads, bowls, vegetables, or roasted meats. Beyond fresh use, Texas tarragon can be dried and steeped into an herbal anise-scented tea. In the Aztec Empire, the herb was mixed into xocolatl, a cocoa-based drink with a warming, spicy undertone. Texas tarragon pairs well with meats such as poultry, veal, turkey, and fish, eggs, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, squash, mushrooms, asparagus, citrus, mint, and white wine vinegar. Fresh Texas tarragon can be stored upright in a glass of water, or it can be wrapped in a paper towel and sealed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week. The leaves can also be preserved in vinegar or frozen for extended use.
In Central Mexico, Texas tarragon was traditionally used by the Aztecs for cultural, medicinal, and culinary practices. The fragrant herb was known as Yauhtli in Nahuatl, meaning “herb of the clouds,” a name derived from the clustered flower’s cloud-like appearance and the leaf’s relaxing medicinal properties. Yauhtli was also closely associated with Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain and lightning, as the herb would quickly sprout with the first spring rains. The Aztecs believed rubbing the herb onto one’s chest before crossing a river would protect the wearer against being swept away and that the leaves could be applied to lightening wounds as a natural healing ointment. Yauhtli was also burned as a fragrant incense for religious ceremonies, and a powder was extracted from the plant. Oftentimes this powder was blown in the faces of the people who would be sacrificed to the gods as a calming agent. In the modern-day, Texas tarragon can still be found growing wild throughout Mexico and is still viewed as an herb for rituals and protection. In Central Mexico, Texas tarragon is commonly known as Pericón and is woven into flowered crosses to hang on front doors and in pastures, fields, and backyard gardens. These crosses are created in conjunction with the festival of Sant Michael, annually held in September. During the festival, the herbaceous crosses as burned and used as an offering and protection from the chamuco or the devil. The burnt crosses are left in the corner of the fields until the following year’s festival and are viewed as a symbolic source of protection.
Texas tarragon is native to Central America, specifically Guatemala, and regions of Mexico. The herb has been growing wild for thousands of years and was used by ancient civilizations for medicinal and religious rituals. Over time, Texas tarragon was introduced into the Southwestern United States, where it flourished in the hot, sunny, and dry climate and was used as a flavoring in culinary applications. Today Texas tarragon is still found growing wild in temperate regions of Mexico, the Southern United States, and Central America. Outside of its native region, the herb is available from online seed retailers, cultivated in home gardens and specialty growers for sale at local farmer’s markets.
Recipes that include Texas Tarragon. One is easiest, three is harder.