Just a few steps into the garden and the air is suddenly filled with a soothing fragrance that leaves you mystified and, yet, curious to find its aromatic source. Moving closer in, hints of heady anise softened with a gentle touch of sweetness begins to calm your spirits. It only takes a moment to realize that you’ve been drawn into an intriguing area of the garden overflowing with the intoxicating fragrance of Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida).
Also known by its other names, Winter Tarragon, Texas Tarragon and yerba anise, this semi hardy perennial makes a spectacular showing in the fall garden. Slender stems rising unbranched from the base comprise the upright clumping shape of each plant. Tiny buds that started forming in late summer find their glory in the sunny days of autumn. Golden yellow clusters of marigold-like flowers dance gently across 3 feet tall stems in a show-stopping performance.
Mexican Mint Marigold originated in the cool mountains of Mexico but has become a superstar addition to many Texas gardens. Grow it from seed sown after danger of frost has passed or divide plants in spring or fall. One simple suggestion is to arch a stem to the ground, cover the center with soil, and the stem will often root at the nodes. For optimum flower production plants should be located in an area that receives full sun to moderate afternoon shade.
You’ll find Mexican Mint Marigold used as a substitute for the more temperamental herb, French Tarragon. Both the flowers and leaves are edible and used often in teas, salads, poultry and fish dishes. For a heavenly taste explosion use the leaves in an irresistible dessert we discovered a few years ago, Strawberry Sorbet with Texas Tarragon.
Don’t be disappointed when your Mexican Mint Marigold plants take their winter nap. After dying down to the ground for a few months, they will reappear again in Spring just in time to start rehearsing for their next performance.
Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008