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Texas tarragon is a leafy perennial herb, with thin, blade-shaped leaves. The plant grows upright with its green leaves growing in pairs up slightly woody stems, splaying out like palm fronds. Texas tarragon has the aroma and flavor of sweet licorice with hints of pine and citrus. The taste is very similar to culinary favorite, French tarragon. Golden-yellow, four-petal flowers bloom abundantly at the end of the summer, atop stems reaching up to nearly three feet tall. The leaves are harvested well after the edible flowers bloom. The flowers have the same scent and flavor as the leaves.
Texas tarragon is available year-round.
Texas tarragon is an herb more closely related to marigolds than to true tarragon, though like French and Russian tarragon, the herb is also in the sunflower family. The plant known as Texas tarragon is botanically classified as Tagetes lucida. It is known as Mexican tarragon or Mexican mint marigold. The perennial herb is also commonly called False tarragon, Winter tarragon, and Yerba anise throughout its native range.
Essential oils are extracted from the leaves and the flowers of Texas tarragon, and contain phytochemicals called terpenes like cineol, which is the compound responsible for the herb’s eucalyptus-like scent. It also contains estragole (anise), ocimene (citrus, lime), and phellandrene (citrus and pepper). The volatile oils and compounds in Texas tarragon give the herb antioxidant and sedative properties, in addition to anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. A 2006 research study found that Tagetes lucida has antimicrobial properties that fight against harmful bacteria associated with foodborne illness.
Texas tarragon can be substituted for French or Russian tarragon in any recipe. Pair the fresh herb with chicken and artichokes in a salad. Chop the herb finely and add to salad dressings or marinades. In Latin America, the leaves and flowers are steeped in hot water for a popular anise-scented tea. Add chopped Texas tarragon to egg dishes, butters and cheeses. When heated, the flavor breaks down quickly, so add Texas tarragon towards the end of cooking. Texas tarragon can be preserved by steeping the leaves in vinegar, thus infusing the vinegar with its aroma and flavor. The leaves can also be dried; however, the flavor can be less intense than when fresh. Dried Texas tarragon is often ground down and used to flavor soups and stews. Store fresh Texas tarragon leaves in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic, for up to a week.
Used by Native North and South Americans, Texas tarragon was a medicinal treatment for nausea, digestive troubles, hiccups and malaria. The Aztecs included Texas tarragon as an ingredient in their foaming cocoa-based drink called 'chocolatl'. The ancient Mexican tribe also used the marigold variety along with another Tagetes variety in a smoking blend called zempaxochitl. The blend was purported to promote a sense of calm, cure nausea and hangovers, and in some cases, provoke a state of euphoria.
Texas tarragon is native to the Southern United States and Mexico, particularly the hot, dry regions furthest from the coast. The herb has been used for thousands of years, and evidence from the ancient Aztec civilization shows that it was used most often medicinally and for religious rituals. Tegetes lucida was identified and classified by Antonio Jose Cavanilles, a well-known botanist and student of the works of Carl Linnaeus. Cavanilles was the director of Real Jardín Botánico in Madrid and was helpful in classifying and clarifying numerous species from Spanish explorations of South and Central America. Texas tarragon is more commonly found in the Southern United States along the border with Mexico and throughout Mexico south nearly to Central America. Outside of its native region, the herb is available from seed companies and can be found in home gardens and at local farmers markets.