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Herb of the Year: Dill (Anethum graveolens) - Jul 26, 2010

Herb of the Year: Dill (Anethum graveolens)

by Jane Knaapen Cole, member of Herbs in Thyme and member-at-large of The Herb Society of America

When I started my first herb garden, about 30 years ago, dill and parsley were the only herbs available locally. Looking back to my childhood, I seem to remember it being in every garden in the neighborhood.

 A hardy annual, dill is native to southern and western Asia, naturalized in southern Europe, and North America. The Romans introduced it to Britain. The plant has feathery, aromatic leaves growing 2-3 feet tall. It has yellow-green flowers on flat umbels that bloom July to September, which are followed by flat ribbed fruits/seeds. It is a good companion plant to cabbage, coriander and mallow, and considered a bee plant.

Dill is one of the ancient herbs: used in ancient Egypt as an ingredient in a pain-killing remedy; in an unguent to cure headaches; the Talmud and Bible mention it. It has a long history of use in cooking and medicine in India. The name dill is from a Saxon word meaning to lull: dill-water was distilled from the seeds and  given to colic-y babies to soothe them. It has been used to aid digestion, relieve flatulence, induce sleep, and as Culpepper wrote in 1653, “It stayeth the hiccough, being boiled in wine…”. Dill was an ingredient in love potions, hung in windows or doors against “the evil eye”, carried in amulets to ward off disease or attract a lover. In Colonial days, it was the ‘meeting’ seed for parishioners who nibbled it during long sermons to alleviate hunger pangs. Dill in hot milk was recommended to quieten the nerves.

There are several varieties available. My favorite, ‘Fernleaf”, is dwarf (18 inches), with thicker blue-green foliage; ‘Bouquet’ is bushy, also somewhat blue-green, with compact prolific seed heads; ‘Hercules’ has abundant, flavorful, long-lasting foliage, grows 3-4 feet tall; ‘Mammoth’ has relatively few leaves, runs quickly to seed, with large seed heads, is considered best for pickling.

Both seeds and leaves are used in cooking, especially in Scandinavian cuisine, with fish, potatoes, seafood, eggs, sauerkraut, salad dressings, dips, and of course in making dill pickles!

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