In season: tarragon

Tarragon is one of the essential herbs of French cooking, but a tough one to grow here in hot, humid Georgia. To get fresh tarragon flavor out of the garden, herb gardeners have the best luck with Mexican tarragon, Tagetes lucida, native to Central America and the southwestern United States. It’s a half hardy perennial in our climate.

Herbalist Cara-Lee Scheinfeld of Protea Wild Crafts got her start of Mexican tarragon from Greg Brown of Greenleaf Farm in Barnesville.

“There are French and Russian varieties of tarragon, but the Mexican is the one that grows well for us. Mine has done so well that I’m about to divide the plants to keep them growing strongly. It needs a sunny, drier spot like a well-drained bed,” said Scheinfeld.

Mexican tarragon has small yellow flowers that look like tiny marigolds. The leaves carry the same anise-like flavor as the French and Russian varieties.

A native of South Africa, Scheinfeld says she has always been interested in natural health and wellness. In 2011, she graduated from the BotanoLogos School of Herbal Studies in Mountain City, Georgia and says her business is a blending of the herbal traditions of Africa with those of the Appalachians.

She’s been working in restaurants for more than a decade and now works at The Midway Pub in East Atlanta, where she maintains a small garden and helps the chefs source their food from local farmers.

As Protea Wild Crafts, she hosts a booth at the Thursday evening East Atlanta Village Farmers Market, where she offers fresh herbs, loose leaf herbal teas, therapeutic salves and what she calls “wild food creations,” like soup tonics and herbal cocktail mixes, all tied to the season.

Tarragon goes into some of her soup tonics, and she’s particularly fond of tarragon-infused vinegar. “Steeping the leaves in white vinegar makes a great ingredient for salad dressings,” she said.

Scheinfeld finds tarragon to be a “protective” herb for winter, good for treating the symptoms of colds and flu, as well as being a stimulant and digestive. “And it will give you sweet breath,” she added.

“Tarragon is most potent just before it flowers. I dry some of my tarragon in a food dehydrator, and this year I’m going to make smudge sticks with it as well,” she said.

As a cooking herb, fresh tarragon has an intense flavor. Cut sprigs will keep a few days in a jar of water, or can be frozen in an airtight container for several months. No need to thaw the sprigs before using.

At local farmers markets

Cooking demos:

4-8 p.m. Thursday, November 7. Chef Seth Freedman of Forage and Flame offers demos throughout the market. East Atlanta Village Farmers Market, Atlanta.

9 a.m. Saturday, November 9. Chef Matt Basford of Canoe, working with African Squash. Morningside Farmers Market, Atlanta.

10 a.m. Saturday, November 9. Chef Ryan Smith of Staplehouse. Peachtree Road Farmers Market, Atlanta.

For sale

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From local reports

Tantra’s Tarragon Ice Cream

Hands on: 20 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes plus cooling time and time in ice cream maker

Makes: 1 quart

Terry Dwyer, executive chef at Tantra, offers housemade sorbets and ice cream each day available for dessert or sold by the pint to enjoy at home. Recently, he created tarragon ice cream, which he paired with root beer for Tarragon Root Beer Floats. The anise flavors of tarragon marry perfectly with creamy, spicy root beer with its anise notes.

1 1/2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 2/3 cups granulated sugar, divided

1 star anise

5 peppercorns

3 cardamom pods, crushed

3/4 cup loosely packed tarragon

6 egg yolks

Tarragon sprigs, for garnish

In a large saucepan, combine milk, cream, 1 cup sugar, star anise, peppercorns and cardamom. Whisk together and bring to a boil over high heat. When mixture boils, remove from heat and steep 15 minutes.

While milk mixture is cooling, in the bowl of a food processor, combine remaining 2/3 cup sugar with tarragon and process into a paste. Put paste in a medium bowl and whisk in egg yolks.

Return milk mixture to stovetop. Bring mixture back to a boil. Reduce heat. Add 1/4 cup hot milk mixture to tarragon/egg yolk mixture and quickly whisk to combine. Add another 1/4 cup and whisk again. While whisking, pour all egg yolk mixture into milk and simmer until mixture reaches 170 degrees. Strain mixture with a fine sieve and allow to cool. Refrigerate at least four hours and then make ice cream, following directions for your ice cream maker.

Per 1/2-cup serving: 384 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 5 grams protein, 45 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 21 grams fat (12 grams saturated), 224 milligrams cholesterol, 46 milligrams sodium.