The genus Artemisia has been chosen “Herb of the Year” for 2014 by the International Herb Association. The IHA is a professional trade association providing educational, service and development opportunities for those involved in herbal endeavors. The Herb of the Year is chosen based on being outstanding in at least two of the three major categories: medicinal, culinary, or decorative.
The botanical name Artemisia comes from Artemis, goddess of the moon, who rules over the heavens at night and this is the largest group of plants with silver color. Flourishing from spring to fall, these plants which are members of the daisy family (Compositae) are valued for their interestingly shaped foliage, which is often fragrant, drought resistance, cold hardiness, and range of form from round cushions to tall arching shrub-like forms and are grown mostly for medicinal, culinary or household and craft purposes. Many came to this country with the colonists, however some are native to the Midwest and most are shrubby perennials requiring a sunny location and well-drained soil. Their foliage may be finely cut or lance shaped, feathery or needle-like, and silky, wooly, downy or velvety. The aromas range from mild to pungent and may be piquant, citrusy or appealingly bitter. Flower color also varies from white to yellow, light green or reddish brown.
Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) has finely-cut, soft grey-green needles that resemble dill, a clean, lemony fragrance and is invaluable for covering hard soil in an exposed, sunny site where little else will grow. It is an insect repellant used to repel moths and clippings are used to scent drawers and closets and may be steeped in vinegar for a skin freshener.
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) has silvery, grey-green ferny foliage and is the bitterest herb known with an unpleasant scent used to repel moths and fleas. It was a favorite medieval strewing herb, used as a wormicide, an ingredient in homemade ink and the main ingredient in the liqueur absinthe – now outlawed.
Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua) is an annual Artemisia which self-seeds with delicate foliage and a warm citrus aroma. It is favored by everlasting flower arrangers for wreath bases and should be cut while still bright green.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) has finely cut, silver backed green leaves with purplish stems and brown flowers. It is used for crafts, tussie mussies representing luck to travelers, soothing foot baths and in sleep pillows to induce dreams.
Silver Mound (Artemisia schmidtiana) is a compact ornamental Artemisia with silky, shimmering foliage that forms mounds for borders and rock gardens.
Silver King/Queen (Artemisia ludoviciana) has lance-shaped, wooly aromatic white leaves and is native throughout the Midwestern United States as well as Canada and Mexico. It is used in dried arrangements, burned to repel mosquitoes and called “estafiente” when added to Mexican cooking. Native Americans called it “white sage” and used it for ceremonial and purification purposes.
French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus var. sativa) is the only truly culinary Artemisia with wispy looking grey-green leaves which seldom flower, never set seed, but smell and taste of anise/licorice. It is the “piece de resistance of all culinary herbs.”
Its name is derived from the French word esdragon meaning “little dragon” which is probably a reference to the plant’s serpentine root system. The plant is native to Siberia and the Caspian Sea area, was brought to Spain by invading Mongols and reached France in the 14th century where it gained prominence throughout Europe.
Tarragon is not an ornamental plant, but is still a great herb to grow. Ideally, it needs a warm summer, a mild winter and good soil that isn’t too wet or dry. As a member of the Artemisia family, tarragon requires a dormant period during the winter, which is why it must be grown as an annual in the south. Sprigs may be harvested anytime, but the main cuttings should be before a killing frost. Tarragon retains its best flavor when chopped and frozen fresh in ice cube trays or frozen whole in zip-lock bags, but it can also be dried quickly on wire racks then stored in airtight containers.
With its unique flavor mix of licorice or anise with peppery hints, it enhances fish, pork, beef, poultry, game, potatoes and most mainstream, vegetables, goes well with lemons and oranges, can be used in cream sauces, herb butters, vinegar, mustards and mayonnaise and can also be used in place of salt for people on salt-restricted diets. Use it sparingly however, since its flavor is strong and can dominate or overshadow other flavors.
French tarragon is an important,
often used herb in French cooking
and is one of the essential ingredients
in Herbes de Provence,
bouquet garni and fines herbes
as well as Bearnaise sauce
2 green onions, thinly sliced thinly
1Tbs lemon juice
2 teaspoons snipped fresh tarragon or 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed
In a small bowl combine mayonnaise or salad dressing, green onions, lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons fresh tarragon. Cover and chill.
FRENCH TARRAGON BUTTER COOKIES
1tsp baking soda
2 1/2c flour
3Tbs finely chopped fresh tarragon or 1Tbs dried
Cream butter and sugar, then add egg and mix well. Add flour and soda, then tarragon and vanilla. Roll into 2 long rolls. Refrigerate overnight or longer. Slice 1/8* slices, sprinkle with sugar and bake at 350 for 10-12 mins.
I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.”