A Good Dill of Herbal Usefulness
The word dill means to soothe, and this herb of Mediterranean and southwestern Asian origin has been used as a medicinal herb as far back as ancient Egypt to calm upset stomachs and soothe fussy, colicky babies. The first reference to dill as a culinary herb came in 3000 B.C.E. when the Babylonians grew dill in their gardens. Dill also has minor role in the Christian Bible in Matthew 23:23, although in the King James Version, the word dill is translated (or mis-translated) to ‘anise’. It is also mentioned in the Jewish Talmud. In Medieval times, dill was thought to protect people from witchcraft, to make love potions more powerful, and as a good luck charm to bless a wedding. As a medicinal herb, dill is high in calcium and has antioxidant and antibacterial properties. As a culinary herb, dill is used all over the world. Common culinary uses include dill with salmon (or gravlax) in Sweden, dill in rice in the Middle East, dill pickles (of course!) in Germany, and dill in stuffed grape leave (dolmas) in Greece.
Dill’s horticultural name is Anethum graveolens. It is a member of the Apiaceae family, which includes carrots, fennel, cilantro, Queen Anne’s lace, parsley, and chervil. Dill can reach 3-4ft tall with aromatic, feathery leaves and unbrella-shaped flowers. Both the leaves and the seeds are used. Dill is easily grown from seed. Simply plant in a sunny area in late spring or early summer. Plant in a wind protected area since its hollow stems are easily blown over. Dill roots are fairly deep, so make sure you till your soil, so that the roots have room to grow. A little all-purpose or organic vegetable fertilizer is all you need. To extend your harvest, sow seeds every couple of weeks until mid summer. I always let a few plants go to flower as the flowers are excellent at attracting beneficial insects to the garden.
The only problem I’ve ever had with dill is that slugs and snails love it! I use a product called Sluggo, which is great for organic gardening and is safe to use around pets and kids. It keeps my slug issue under control. Sometimes as an added defense, I will put a beer trap out. Snails and slugs are attracted to the beer, fall in, and die drunk!
This week’s cocktail will not involve beer or slugs, but will include dill in a creative way. Stay tuned!