Dill can be nice garden addition

Published 6:00 am Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dill is a culinary herb that originated in Southern Europe and parts of West Asia. Prized for its fragrant, flavorful foliage, seed and essential oil, dill is most commonly associated with pickled cucumbers in the United States. The seed and leaves are a staple in recipes throughout the world. For example, in Scandinavian countries, one may dine on boiled crawfish seasoned with dill (yes, really!) or sandwiches of Brie cheese and dill.

Essential oil of dill is useful in commercial medicines, detergents and as a flavoring in food. Germany is famous for pickling vegetables with dill, especially cabbage (sour Kraut). Dill grown in India is known as &8216;Soyah&8217; and is also used for pickling purposes and in herbal blends for cooking. The herb grows wild in areas of Spain, Portugal and Palestine today. In San Francisco, naturalized dill grows in cracks and crevices throughout the city.

The value of dill as a medicinal herb has been touted in the Middle East as far back as Biblical times. Script from the ancient Jewish script of Talmud shows that dill &8220;was subject to a tithe.&8221;

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&8220;Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted weightier matters of the law&8230;&8221; one reads in Matthew 23:23. Research by Biblical scholars and botanists have since proven that the &8220;anise&8221; mentioned in this scripture was actually dill.

Known as the Anethon of Dioscorides, Pliny described various uses for dill, as did European scholars from the 10th century. During the middle ages, dill was one of the herbs frequently used by magicians casting spells.

Culpepper wrote in 1653, &8220;Mercury has the dominion of this plant, and therefore to be sure it strengthens the brain &8230; It stays the hiccough, being boiled in wine, and but smelled unto being tied in cloth. The seed is more use than the leaves, and more effectual to digest raw and vicious humours, and is used in medicines that serve to expel, wind, and the pains proceeding therefrom&8230;&8221;

OK, on that note, it is time for a little practical information about growing dill in the Miss-Lou. The threadlike bluish-green foliage grows best during the cool-season growing period and adds a ferny effect to the landscape. As the plants mature and bolt when temperatures warm in late spring, lovely yellow flower umbels form, followed by the aromatic seed. Poorly drained soils, overcrowding and lack of adequate moisture will encourage dill to bolt prematurely. Transplant dill into a well-drained soil, with full sun exposure.

Harvested leaves, commonly known as dill weed, can be used fresh or dried for later use. The leaves and seeds notable ingredients in many delicious recipes including those with fish, especially salmon. Dried dill leaves or seed stored in the cupboard are convenient for flavoring seafood, eggs, potatoes, breads and more.

If you&8217;re not cultivating dill in your cool-season garden yet, it&8217;s not too late. Plant some today and enjoy it through next spring as an attractive accompaniment to your garden and a tasty addition to your menu.

Traci Maier

writes a weekly column about gardening in the Miss-Lou. She can be reached by e-mail at