Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is a well-known culinary herb that belongs to the Asteraceae (daisy) family. It has many common names including estragon, dragon wormwood, and false tarragon. Tarragon is found and cultivated in many regions of the world. Variations in its chemical makeup occur based on location, harvesting techniques, season, and manufacturing. I previously discussed how these many factors determine the quality of an essential oil. They also all interact resulting in an essential oil’s species main compound, or chemotype.
Tarragon essential oil’s main constituents, as reported in the literature, are methylchavicol (estragole), limonene, B-ocimene, B-pinene, and many others. (source, source, source, source). It has various properties including supporting gastrointestinal and brain health, acting as an antioxidant and antimicrobial, food preservative, and as an analgesic (for pain relief). (source, source, source, source, source, source, source) Much of its effects are based on traditional use and have been validated in vitro and in animal studies.
Two of tarragon’s main compounds, estragole and methyleugenol, have gotten some negative attention. Those not versed in deciphering isolates from essential oils confuse the differences between them. This can lead to false claims of essential oils being “toxic.” Many “experts” base their cautionary warnings of essential oils from one of its compound’s action in a rodent or petri dish study that utilizes very high doses. However, essential oils contain mostly a subtle symphony of synergistic substances which have been used as dietary flavorings for ages.
I discussed this topic in detail here. I also explained that estragole, found in fennel oil, which has been used safely by ingestion for years, gave it a bad name unnecessarily. In another review on estragole, the author further highlights the caveats of toxicology studies in animals versus the use of essential oils dosed appropriately based on human biochemistry. Several oils, including tarragon, are highlighted.
Natural Medicine Database’s review of tarragon also cited the purposed mechanisms of toxicity of tarragon was based on rodent studies, but since has been questioned. The amount of estragole alone to be toxic in tarragon essential oil is reported to be 100-1000x the oral dose.
This is echoed in another review:
Artemisia dracunculus L. (tarragon) has a long history of use as a spice and remedy. Two well-described “cultivars” (Russian and French) are used widely and differ in ploidy level, morphology, and chemistry. Key biologically active secondary metabolites are essential oils (0.15-3.1%), coumarins (>1%), flavonoids, and phenolcarbonic acids. In vivo studies mainly in rodents, particularly from Russian sources, highlight potential anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, and antihyperglycemic effects. Despite concerns about the toxic effects of two of its main constituents, estragole (up to 82%) and methyleugenol (up to 39%), no acute toxicity or mutagenic activity has been reported at doses relevant for human consumption. Water extracts of A. dracunculus contain very low amounts of estragole and methyleugenol and, therefore, are considered to pose a very limited risk. Overall, a stronger focus on clinical studies and precise taxonomic and phytochemical definition of the source material will be essential for future research efforts. (source)
That being said, I still want you to make sure you are using good quality essential oils and using them appropriately. Also let your doctor know about any changes to your healthcare regime.
To learn more about essential oils safety, visit my essential oils database on this site.
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*Safety reminder: Please use essential oils and all natural products wisely. For additional safety and medical information, be sure to visit my essential oils database. This includes a full category on how to use essential oils safely and potential drug interactions that can occur. Also, be extra sure to check with your doctor if you have a seizure disorder. The Epilepsy Society of the UK lists certain essential oils implicated for their antiseizure effect as well as those that have stimulating properties.
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This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.