Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida), native to Mexico, has been used since Aztec times both medicinally and as a flavoring in food. Its long, rich history has resulted in many nicknames such as Mexican Mint Marigold, Sweet Mace, Yerba Anise and Pericon.
The Aztecs used Mexican tarragon as an incense and to flavor chocolate. Traditional Mexican cultures, used it medicinally to treat stomachaches, nausea, colds and fevers. In modern Mexican culture, it is used to treat digestive upsets, as well as flavoring for eggs and meat dishes.
Mexican tarragon tastes like French tarragon with a slight anise flavor. Although it tastes like French tarragon, Mexican tarragon is not a true tarragon (Artemisia). Instead, it is related to marigolds. The foliage resembles tarragon but the flowers are definitely marigolds.
Mexican tarragon is a perennial in zone 9. North of there, it is grown as an annual. The plants reach 30 inches in height in full sun, 18 inches in partial shade. The plants grow as small bushes but interestingly, if the branches touch the ground, they develop roots and the plants spread out from there. It is drought tolerant once it’s established but if you want lots of flowers, water the plants regularly. Well-drained soil is a must or the roots will rot.
Bloom time is late summer/early fall, August and September. The flowers resemble single marigolds with five petals and are bright yellow in color. There is a first, small flush of flowers in the spring followed by the main, fuller flush in the fall.
Propagating Mexican tarragon is easy. As noted above, layering the branches works. It will also readily reseed itself in your garden. You can start your seeds indoors in the spring. Germination will occur in 2 weeks. You can transplant your seedlings into your garden when they are 2- to 4-inches tall and after all danger of frost has passed.
For best flavor, harvest the leaves before the plant blooms in the fall. You can harvest small amounts of the leaves throughout the growing season. New leaves will grow back to replace them. In the fall, you can uproot the entire plant and hang it to dry for use during the winter.
Mexican tarragon is a good substitute for French tarragon because it can withstand the summer heat better. Unlike French tarragon, which is added at the beginning of cooking, Mexican tarragon is more delicate and should be added at the end of the cooking time.