Mexican tarragon is a perennial plant native to Central and South America. It is known by a variety of other names, such as Texas tarragon, false tarragon, Mexican mint marigold, and winter tarragon.
It is closely related to French tarragon, but it is far more resilient to drought and heat. Mexican tarragon can be planted in an herb garden, a flower garden, or in containers. When given the space, it can grow to be the size of a small bush. Though it is drought resilient, it is more lush and full when it receives regular watering. Using a drip system or another irrigation tool to water the tarragon is recommended, as the plant does not like to get its leaves wet. Keep the plant in bright sunlight to make it happy and to keep its leaves full of flavor.
This plant is much more resilient than its French cousin, but there are still things you should do to keep it growing abundantly and full of flavor. Keep reading to learn more!
About Mexican Tarragon
Mexican tarragon belongs to the plant family Asteraceae. It is related to both French and Russian tarragon but can be planted successfully in more areas due to its general resiliency to higher temperatures and drought.
Plants in the family Asteraceae sometimes cause reactions in humans that can appear similar to allergy symptoms (hay fever, eczema, etc.). They can also cause irritation to the skin, so be mindful when handling them if you have this sensitivity.
The plant grows as an upright plant with green, oblong leaves that are ridged along the edges. They have woody stems as they grow and, if given the space, can develop to be the size of a small bush – about two to three feet in both height and width.
Throughout the year, it produces several single, yellow, five-petaled flowers. These bloom sparsely in the early spring and more fully in the fall. The flowers look very similar to Marigolds, and the bright, yellow color attracts birds, bees, and other pollinators.
The leaves of the Mexican tarragon plant are savory and can be used in cooking and, more traditionally, in medicine and teas. Many compare the flavor to that of licorice or anise.
Ideal Temperature for Mexican tarragon
Mexican tarragon is very heat resilient. It grows well in hot, humid climates in USDA zones 9-11.
A hard freeze can kill the plant. But they can often sprout new plants from their roots the following spring if you do not live somewhere where there are harsh winters.
In areas that do have harsh winters, the plant is grown as an annual and replanted each year.
If you do live in an area with harsher winters, you also have the option of planting your Mexican tarragon on a container. This will allow you to bring it indoors during the winter to keep it growing.
Soil Requirements for Mexican Tarragon
Mexican tarragon can grow in nearly any soil, provided that it is well-draining. It is not a plant that does not like to be wet.
Light, sandy soil is ideal for growing conditions. Usually, soil with a pH level of 6.5-7 is recommended.
It may still grow in other types of soil because it is so resilient. However, take note that the flavor of the plant and its overall growth and ability to bloom may be affected.
Mexican tarragon plants tolerate partial shade but are happiest (and more full of flavor) when they are exposed to complete sunlight.
Do not be afraid to keep your Mexican tarragon in bright, direct sunlight for most of the day (six hours or more).
Planting & growing Mexican tarragon
Mexican tarragon can be planted from seed. It also reseeds itself, can be propagated from stem cuttings, or divided into separate plants once it matures.
It is best to plant it in early spring, after the last late frost.
If you choose to germinate the seeds indoors first, begin the process about six to eight weeks before you project the last frost to be.
Planting from seed
If you plant your Mexican tarragon from seed, plant the seeds at very shallow depths. Be sure to space the seeds 18 to 24 inches apart. This space allows the plant to grow fully and still have plenty of circulation.
Germination of the seeds is longer than many plants. It can take two weeks (and sometimes longer).
Wait until the seedlings are about four inches tall before transplanting them, if you begin the seeds in starter trays indoors,
Assuming you plant your seeds directly in your garden, be sure that you have done so after your last frost to avoid killing new plants.
If you have already planted your seeds and expect a frost, be sure to cover seedlings to protect them from the cold.
Pay attention to young plants and water when the top of the soil becomes dry to help their roots develop. The plants will become more drought-hardy as they grow, but care and attention when their young are important.
Planting with stem cuttings
Planting Mexican tarragon with stem cuttings works best when the cuttings are started indoors.
Place fresh, six to eight-inch cuttings in proper soil somewhere where they will receive plenty of light. When gathering your cuttings, be sure to cut just below a node of leaves.
You can dip the tips of the cuttings into growth hormone to help encourage it to grow, but this step is not necessary.
After four weeks, your cuttings should have developed a root system and are ready to be planted.
Grown Mexican tarragon bushes can also be separated into more plants through division. Dividing your plant every two to three years can help keep it well circulated and uncrowded with other nearby plants.
To divide your plant, dig up the bush and separate the roots with a sharp shear or clippers. Plant the new plants two feet apart and water regularly to help the roots adjust.
You might also choose to wait and allow the plant to reseed itself. Mexican tarragon has tall stems that will lean over towards the ground as they grow. When they touch the ground, roots will begin to develop, and a new plant forms.
Watering Mexican tarragon
Mexican tarragon is drought tolerant, but your plant will grow and taste better if you water it regularly.
Water only when the top of the soil is dry (about 2 inches deep). Mexican tarragon does not like wet conditions and can be prone to root rot. Do not water the plant every day.
Consider using a drip system or a soaker hose to water your tarragon. They prefer not to get their leaves wet. If you do regularly get the leaves wet, it can become a breeding ground for pests and disease.
It is also better to water the plants in the morning. This allows them to dry before the night falls. Wet plants at night can also be prone to disease.
Pruning Mexican tarragon
To stimulate growth for the following year, prune back your Mexican tarragon in the late winter or early spring. Wait until the plant is done flowering before pruning.
Once it has stopped flowering and the leaves begin to yellow (a signal that winter is coming), cut the plant back 4-5 inches towards the head of the plant.
This pruning will help prepare your plant for the following spring.
Harvesting Mexican Tarragon
Harvesting your Mexican tarragon can be done with clean, sharp scissors throughout the growing season. Both the leaves, stems, and flowers can be harvested.
Wait until your Mexican tarragon is at least eight inches tall before harvesting.
If you only need a couple of leaves, you can even pluck them off with your fingers. Use scissors if you need to remove the full stems of the plant.
In either case, be gentle with the plant, as tarragon can bruise quite easily. It is best, too, to harvest in the early morning when the oils of the plant are well-distributed.
Be sure to stop harvesting your plant around one month before frost is expected to come to your area. If you prune too late in the season, the plant will likely keep producing new growth, which will be harmed if temperatures drop too low.
Storing harvested Mexican tarragon
If you want to store your tarragon for the future, you can freeze it. To do this, wash your tarragon and allow it to dry completely. Place the tarragon in freezer bags or wrap them in plastic wrap. They will last for six months in the freezer.
Mexican tarragon also lasts well when kept in vinegar. Many gardeners create tarragon vinegar by muddling the herb and placing it in a jar full of vinegar or white wine for a week.
You can dry your tarragon, as well, by tying several branches together and hanging them until the branches are so dry that they snap upon bending. At that point, you can remove the leaves from the branch.
Mexican tarragon requires no fertilization.
If you are able, consider putting fresh compost on the plant every year to ensure the soil stays full of nutrients.
Pests and diseases
Mexican tarragon is typically not prone to pests. In fact, it repels many insects. This is likely due to its scent and may be connected to its close relation to the marigold, which also repels many insects.
If the plant is affected by a pest, it is usually the aphid. These bugs will eat through your plant, which typically causes discoloration in the plant. You might notice that they leave behind an excretion of honeydew behind them as they go. If you think your plan has been infected with aphids, spray it with soapy water or insecticidal soap.
You can make a simple insecticidal soap by mixing 3-4 tablespoons of dish soap with a gallon of water.
Mexican tarragon is deer resistant.
The disease that most commonly impacts Mexican tarragon is root rot. This rot is caused by overwatering. Be sure that your Mexican tarragon is in good soil, and do your best to keep it from getting overwatered.
The most common use today for Mexican tarragon is for flavoring in cooking and some teas and drinks. It is often used as a substitute for French tarragon because it is easier to grow, although the taste is slightly different.
It is commonly paired with eggs in recipes and is often used in soups and salads. If you cook with tarragon, add the leaves near the end of cooking for the best flavor.
The flowers of the plant are edible and can be used to brighten up salads or used as a garnish for a dish.
The plant is also a good source of Vitamins A and C.
Traditionally, the Aztecs used to use the leaves of Mexican tarragon to make herbal teas or to flavor drinks.
It was used to alleviate colds and fevers and to treat stomach aches, nausea, and colic in Mexican cultures.
Traditions suggest that this use is effective. Though few studies have been done on this plant’s medicinal effects.
The Aztecs also used Mexican tarragon in many different ritual practices. They burned it as offerings to their gods and used it as good luck when crossing rivers. It is still used today, in some places, as a defense against evil spirits.
Mexican tarragon is a hardy, heat-resistant herb that can be used in many different ways, from cooking to drink-making to insect repellant to medicinal treatments.
Keep your plant in a sunny place in well-draining soil. Water it when it is dry and prune it whenever you are ready to use it! Do this, and this plant will need little attention from you.
Do you have more questions about how to grow and care for Mexican tarragon? Let us know! Drop a note in the comments below.