Dill is a hardy annual herb, native of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea regions, smaller than common fennel, which it somewhat resembles both in appearance and in the flavor of the green parts.
History of Dill
In ancient times dill was grown in Palestine. The word translated “anise” in Matthew xxiii, 23, is said to have been “dill” in the original Greek. It was well-known in Pliny”s time and is often discussed by writers in the Middle Ages.
According to American writings, it has been grown in this country for more than 100 years and has become spontaneous in many places. Though its main use is as a culinary herb, dill is used in perfuming soap, where an oil is distilled from the seeds.
Description of Dill
Ordinarily the plants grow approximately two feet tall. The grayish-green, smooth, hollow, branching stems bear very thread-like leaves and in midsummer produce compound umbels with numerous yellow flowers, whose small petals are rolled inward.
Very flat, pungent, bitter seeds are freely produced and, unless gathered early, are sure to stock the garden with volunteer seedlings for the following year. Under fair storage conditions, the seeds continue viable for three years. They are rather light; an ounce is said to contain over 25,000 seeds.
Where dill has not already been grown, seed may be sown in early spring, preferably in a warm sandy soil, though some growers favor a fall sowing, claiming the seed is more likely to germinate and to also produce better plants. Any well-drained soil will do:
- The drills should be one foot apart, the seeds scattered thinly and covered very shallow.
- A bed, 12-feet-square, should supply abundance of seed for any ordinary family. To sow this area, 1/4 to 1/2 ounce of seed is ample.
- At all times the plants must be kept free from weeds and the soil loose and open.
- When the dill seedlings are three or four weeks old they should be thinned to nine to 12 inches apart.
- As soon as the seed is ripe, shortly after midsummer, it must be gathered with the least possible shaking and handling, so as to prevent loss.
- The ripened dill seed should be hauled directly to the shade where drying is to occur.
Cooking with Dill
As a culinary herb, dill has had long history of uses and still does today. Some of the more common uses will follow, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. The use of dill is more common in European cultures, but it is also valued by Americans, most notably in pickles:
- Dill is probably most used in pickles, especially in preserving cucumbers according to German recipes.
- Dill vinegar is a popular household condiment. It is made by soaking the seed in good vinegar for a few days before using.
- The French use dill for flavoring preserves, cakes and pastry.
- The seeds more often appear in soups, sauces and stews.
- The young leaves are said to be used in pickles, soups and sauces and even in salads. For the last purpose they are rather strong to suit most people, and for the others the seeds are far more popular.
Kains, M.G. (1912). Culinary Herbs: Their Cultivation, Harvesting, Curing and Uses. Retrieved April 3, 2008, from the Project Gutenberg Web site: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21414/21414-h/21414-h.htm#Page_59.