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Russian is bland, French is aromatic ... know the tarragons.

Russian is bland, French is aromatic . . . know the tarragons

Beware a Soviet impostor: Russian tarragonlooks like the true French kind--and even goes by the same name (Artemisia dracunculus), but it's a different strain altogether. In contrast to the aromatic anise flavor of true tarragon, the Russian has a bland, grassy flavor.

You will often find both varieties sold sideby side at nurseries. Even looking closely, you can detect only subtle differences in appearance (the Russian has slightly larger leaves, and tips of its older leaves ofte divide into three lobes). You may be able to feel the difference: rub the leaves lightly between thumb and forefinger; French tarragon feels silky, while Russian leaves are rougher because of thicker leaf hairs.

If these perennials aren't labeled, you canusually sort them out by sniffing the leaves. The true herb exudes an anise scent (this is particularly noticeable if the plant has been sitting in the sun). Once you have your French tarragon plant home, you'll notice its distinct licorice flavor when you bite into a leaf.

In frost-free areas this month, both typesare available at many nurseries. If you plant now, the herb will have a chance to get established before cool weather slows it down. You should be able to harvest some leaves by late fall. Next spring, your plant will get off to a fast start once temperatures begin rising.

In cold-winter areas, you may still findsome plants, but it's getting late to set them out (tarragons go dormant in cold weather). However, you can take cuttings or root divisions now, but act quickly so plants get big enough to winter over. Protect dormant plants from frost with a layer of mulch.

Tarragon does best in fast-draining soil ina sunny spot. Make sure that roots are not constantly soggy, which can lead to rotting. Too much fertilizer and water produce tender, lush growth that doesn't have much flavor, so feed only lightly during the growing season.

Plants reach 1 to 2 feet, spreading to 3feet. To harvest, snip out tips (see photograph above). Tarragon has many uses and is excellent in egg, chicken, and fish dishes. It's also a basic ingredient of bearnaise sauce.

Photo: Will the true tarragon please stand up? They look almostexactly alike, but the plant on the right is true culinary French tarragon; the one on the left is bland Russian tarragon

Photo: To harvest, snip out tips of vigorousshoots, but be sure to leave about 3 inches of growth to keep plants vigorous
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Date:Jul 1, 1987
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