ARTEMISIA // the local food report

It's embarrassing, but I'd never cooked with tarragon until this week. Not even tarragon with chicken? No. I do vaguely remember serving a tarragon chicken salad at the bakery where I worked growing up, but I never tried it because the mango chicken chutney salad was so good. I didn't see the point in branching out. 

I'm learning, slowly. This week for the Local Food Report I talked with Donna Eaton at Cedar Spring Herb Farm about Artemisias. They're a genus of herbs—estimates range from about 180 to 400 varieties in all—and they're best known for their silvery leaves and their bitter taste. They've been used as both food and medicine for hundreds of years, but Americans don't cook with them all that often. (Guilty.) 

But there are lots of good reasons to try Artemisias in the kitchen. Not only are they complex and aromatic, but they're good for us. While the exact mechanisms aren't understood, bitter flavors seem to stimulate digestion, helping us through the aftermath of a heavy meal. And various Artmesias are also used to treat malaria, draw down a fever, help with difficult child labor, get rid of parasites, and treat the chronic infections that can follow Lyme disease.

In that spirit, I'd like to share my first tarragon recipe ever: a tarragon vinaigrette adapted from 101cookbooks.com. I'd also like to share a link to a flyer for a celebration of Artemisia, which has been named the Herb of the Year for 2014 by the International Herb Association. Donna is hosting a day of herbal workshops and demonstrations at the farm Saturday May 3rd from 9am to 4pm. You can read all about it over here. And finally, if you're interested in growing a few Artemisias, take note: you probably already have some mugwort volunteers in your yard, and Better Homes and Gardens has a great set of online plans for putting together a bed of Artemisias and what make good companion herbs and flowers. 

And without further ado, everyone, meet tarragon vinaigrette. It's my new go-to. 


I like this dressing best on a simple salad: good fresh butter lettuce with not much else. That said, it also makes a great complement to herb heavy salads—we had it last night on a salad of spring greens, cilantro, mint, and pine nuts.

1 small shallot, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup tarragon leaves
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons whole grain Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until thick and smooth. Pour it into a dressing jar and if possible, let it sit for a few hours before you use it so that the flavors come together. 

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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.