Tarragon is a plant in the sunflower family that has been used for centuries as a culinary herb. There are several varieties of this plant, with French tarragon being the most common, and in addition to a rich aroma and a distinctive flavor, it may also provide a number of health benefits.
Health Benefits of Tarragon
Tarragon contains a number of organic compounds, and it’s these compounds that are said to be responsible for its health benefits. These include estragole, which is an isomer of anethole—the compound responsible for the unique flavour and scent of anise—as well as fennel and liquorice. This is why tarragon has a similar, yet distinctive, taste.
The most notable and research-backed benefits of tarragon and tarragon oil include:
1. It Could Relieve Pain
Tarragon has a history of use as a natural pain remedy, and recent studies lend credence to these long-held beliefs. One study gave patients an extract of tarragon over the course of 12 weeks and recorded significant reductions in pain and inflammation.(1)
There aren’t a great deal more studies confirming these pain-killing properties, but many more studies note how effective it is at reducing inflammation, something that we’ve also noted in healthy herbs like marjoram.
2. It Can Boost the Immune System and Reduce Disease
As with most herbs, tarragon possesses potent antioxidant compounds that work to decrease inflammation throughout the body. This means it can reduce the risk of chronic diseases like cancer and coronary heart disease, while also fighting joint and bowel inflammation.
Tarragon consumption can also support the immune system, as evidenced by a 2016 study on extracts of this herb.(2)
3. It Could Decrease Blood Sugar
Research suggests tarragon can help regulate blood sugar, something it does by improving metabolisation of glucose and insulin. An extensive study performed using tarragon extracts in 2016 found significant improvements in blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, and other key markers for diabetes and prediabetes.(3)
4. It Has an Antibacterial Effect
Tarragon inhibits bacterial growth and seems to be especially effective at combating the spread of E.coli and Staphylococcus when used as a food additive.(4) This doesn’t say much for the average consumer, as there is no suggestion that it can inhibit bacterial growth in the body, but it bodes well for the use of tarragon as a natural preservative.
It’s not the only herb that works in this way—we’ve previously discussed how extracts of thyme are often added to mouthwash to kill oral bacteria.
Nutrients in Tarragon
Tarragon isn’t a nutritional powerhouse, but like all herbs, it can provide small amounts of essential vitamins and help top-up your RDAs. A single 5g serving of the dried and powdered herb contains around 15 calories and 1g of protein, in addition to approximately 3% to 9% of nutrients like vitamin A, C, B6, iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. It will also provide around a fifth of your daily requirements for manganese.
Not bad for a single tablespoon of something that can add a little extra flavour to your meals.
Other Benefits of Tarragon
Extracts of tarragon have shown promise in treating mild insomnia and other sleep disturbances. It seems to fall short of herbal remedies like passionflower, but it could be useful as a complementary herbal medicine, as it produces few (if any) side effects and is abundantly available. To date, however, we only have anecdotal evidence, and a few rodent studies to support these claims and extensive human studies will be needed before conclusions can be made.
Different Varieties of Tarragon
Unlike herbs like oregano, tarragon doesn’t have a long history of use and was all but shunned by the Greeks and the Romans. It is believed to have been used by the Arabs around 700 years ago, before becoming popular in Europe several hundred years later.
Today, several different varieties of tarragon are available, all of which may simply be labelled as “tarragon” on supermarket shelves. These are:
- French Tarragon: By far the most popular and the most common, French tarragon is said to have the best flavour. It’s stronger, richer, and suited to a wide array of dishes—it tastes great sprinkled on scrambled eggs or added to a pesto. It also keeps for a long time when it has been dried, holding those nutrients inside.
- Russian Tarragon: A weaker and milder variety, Russian tarragon doesn’t keep as long, but it isn’t as difficult to grow. The plant is hardier and can be grown in more varied conditions, which means it’s often favoured by growers, although consumers rarely seek it out.
- Spanish Tarragon: This variety is somewhere between Russian and French in terms of aroma and flavour. It’s often recommended for medicinal use, as the flavour is strong enough to make an enjoyable and healthy cup of herbal tea, but it’s not so strong that it becomes overpowering.
As far as the aforementioned health benefits are concerned, all of these varieties will provide similar levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The age of the herb, how long it has been stored, and whether you’re using fresh or dried will have more of an impact on nutrient potency than the variety.
How to Benefit
Herbs like tarragon, dill, and parsley can be used to flavour foods or make teas, or can be concentrated into oils and extracts. Unlike fruits and vegetables, you don’t need to consume large amounts to reap the benefits, and even an occasional teaspoon added to a stew or brewed into tea will boost your vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant consumption.
The more herbs you use, the greater the variety of these healthy compounds you will consume. Where tarragon is concerned, it can be used to flavour fish and sauces, but you can also brew it into a tea with a little honey and a wedge of lemon.
Just take it easy; don’t go overboard assuming that more is better, and remember that the best way to stay healthy is to consume a variety of healthy foods. We’d also recommend sticking with the fresh or dried herb as opposed to an extract. Extracts and essential oils are medicines, not food, and they are far more likely to trigger adverse reactions without necessarily providing many more health benefits.