This common garden herb is used for both its seed and its fragrant leaf. Everyone is familiar with the dill pickle, which is usually a cucumber left whole or cut into spears, chunks, or slices, and flavored with salt, dill, spices, and sometimes vinegar and garlic. And even though a pickle can be anything from a string bean to a peach, the long, crunchy cucumber spears will inevitably be flavored with dill seed.
In cook’s jargon, pickling is actually a process of fermenting food in a salty brine, or immersing in vinegar for a quick pickle. What we commonly call “pickles” are technically pickled cucumbers. You can even pickle lumber, such as for paneling or flooring, with calcium carbonate or lime.
If you haven’t tried fresh dill weed, as the leaf is often called, you are in for a real treat. This lovely herb is used extensively in Scandinavian, Russian, and Eastern European cooking, and also in many Greek dishes. And while the leaf may look delicate, it adds a lot of flavor.
Use fresh dill weed with eggs, either as an edible garnish or as a small amount minced into the dish itself. It is the quintessential flavoring for a steaming bowl of new potatoes; simply sprinkle it on fresh, or dollop with a generous amount of dill weed blended with soft butter. You can use this butter to season all types of fresh vegetables as well as fish. Try sipping a cold glass of buttermilk or kefir flavored with a pinch of fresh dill – very refreshing.
Chewing on dill seed is said to be a remedy for hiccups. The word dill comes from the Norwegian dylla, meaning “to lull”, and indeed, a mild tea made from the seeds is a good remedy for baby’s colic and is said to help bring on mother’s milk.
Dill Seed Tea – Boil 1 pint (2 cups) water, remove from heat, stir in 1 teaspoon dill seed, then cover and steep for 5 minutes. Strain and serve warm, up to 2 cups a day for mother and 2 small spoonfuls every hour for baby. You can also gently warm the seeds in milk for baby.
The lulling quality of dill must be one of the reasons why it is often used in sleep pillows – you know, those cute little pillows stuffed with magical herbs that you tuck under your regular pillow to lull you to sleep. I love how folklore and utility often go hand in hand.
The essential oil of dill has been shown to have antifungal and antibacterial potential, while the alcohol extract shows anti-oxidant properties; mass spectrometer studies resulted in the identification of 35 compounds responsible for the potency of this common garden herb.
It’s easy to grow dill. If you have the garden space, you can successively plant every two weeks starting in May until the end of June for fresh dill all summer. Dill likes full sun and loamy soil, and moderate watering. Snip fresh leaves throughout the summer to keep them growing, but let some stems grow into seed heads too. Dill is a tall plant, from 2 to 3 feet, and prolific, so take that into consideration. Otherwise, find one of the more compact varieties to grow in a container. Fernleaf and Teddy are favorite container varieties, while Bouquet is the most common garden type.
Be sure to save some seed for planting Anethum graveolens next year: before they are fully ripe, cut the stem at least a foot below the seed head, and tie several stems into a bunch to hang and dry in a dark, airy place, perhaps with a loose paper bag around them to catch any errant seed. Dill makes a good companion plant for cole crops – cabbage, broccoli, and so on – while growing dill with carrots, parsnips or other plants of the Apiaceae or celery family (to which dill belongs) is discouraged.
If you find that you have extra dill fronds or flowering heads, you can use them in floral arrangements; they are quite beautiful.
[This article is an excerpted and revised version of “D is for Dill”, which is found in my book, THE WILD & WEEDY APOTHECARY. You can purchase a signed copy of my book directly from me for $25 ppd. US only. Please leave a comment if you want me to contact you.]