Ever wonder how dill got into dill pickles? Flavor enhancement is only a part of the reason. The herb is also a natural preservative, and in the days before refrigeration, vegetables were often pickled in vinegar or brine to preserve them. With Dill added, they lasted even longer. A weedy annual native to southern Europe and Egypt where it grows easily in the grain fields, it has been cultivated in Britain since 1570. Dill is an ancient herb that was typically found in Greek kitchen gardens growing among beets, lettuces, and onions. Dill also helped settle the stomach, because the herb is a digestive aid. In fact the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese all used Dill to soothe the stomach. The Vikings also appreciated Dill's digestive benefits. Our word "Dill" comes from the Old Norse "dilla", to lull or soothe. During the Middle ages, Dill was used to protect against witchcraft (which may account for the total absence of witches around my garden), and throughout history, cooled Dill tea, or "Dill-water" has been a popular folk remedy for infant colic. Dill-water works, and is gentle enough for infants, for colic. Many herbalists recommend a combination of dill and fennel. Both herbs contain stomach-soothing oils.

Dill owes its preservative action to its ability to inhibit the growth of several bacteria (Staphylococcus, streptococcus, pseudomonas and Escherichia  coli). This effect suggests that it might help prevent another comon early childhood gastrointestinal illness-infectious diarrhea caused by these same microorganisms. Traditional herbalists also recommended dill for prevention of flatulence, and perhaps there is something to this. This herb has anti-foaming action, suggesting that it might help break up bubbles. Fresh dill, a member of the carrot family, is essential for some fish recipes and for dill pickles; it is shamefully easy to grow, and will soon become a welcome weed in your garden. It is best before it flowers, unless you want the seeds, which it produces in profusion. Sow dill seeds for April to June in succession. Thin seedlings to 30cm apart. It likes a rich, well drained soil and a sunny position. It will tolerate a bit of shade and still grow well but it definitely does best in the sun. Sow seeds in the spot where they are going to stay as it does not transplant well. Do not plant near fennel as it will cross pollination. It is not good to plant it near tomatoes or carrots either. Sow shallowly, and keep moist until they germinate. Dill does not compete well with weeds, so it is important keep it weeded (gently) or place a mulch around it when it is a few inches high. Do not heavily fertilize this plant or it grows to a tall lanky specimen with only few seed heads. A shovel of compost for every 3 feet of row is quite sufficient for its needs for the whole summer. It does like to be watered regularly so give it about an inch of water per week .

Some varieties of Dill are larger than others, so it is worth checking the seed packet to see if specific spacing instructions are included. Some Dill (tetraploid) will grow nearly as high as you are, but there is a select very leafy dwarf form, 'fernleaf', which is ideal for small space gardens. It lends itself to pot culture very well because it has seldom more than one stalk.

You may begin harvesting a few leaves when the plant is about six inches tall. The small yellow flowers that appear on Dill plants will attract some beneficial insects to the garden, such as tiny parasitic wasps that destroy some garden pests (but do not harm people). The tiny seeds are easily lost, so it is best to cut off the seed heads when the seeds have just started to ripen, and place them loosely in a paper bag until they dry completely. If you pick them early in the morning, they will have a better taste and store better than if you pick later in the day. Store the seeds in a tightly sealed container to protect them from moisture. The young flowerheads can be added to salads but be sure to allow some to go to seed. The leaves make an excellent sauce for fish and can be added to salads especially cucumber. Dill leaves chopped finely are and interesting addition to cottage cheese or cream cheese.

Dill seeds can be used whole in lamb stew, herb butters, bean soups and, of course, pickled cucumbers. Traditionally Dill seed tea is said to promote sleep and when chewed it can sweeten the breath. To brew a stomach-soothing tea, use two teaspoons of mashed seeds ( a mortor and pestle is useful for this) per cup of boiling water. Steep for ten minutes. Drink up to three cups a day. In a tincture, take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon up to three times a day. To treat colic or gas in children under two, give small amounts of a weak tea. It is also beneficial for nerves, hair, fevers, headaches and finger-nails, and as a sedative tea for insomnia. As I mentioned before, Dill is a good plant for the garden too. It attracts beneficial insects such as bees, parasitic wasps (that eat other insects) and tachnid flies (that eat other insects). Planted in an orchard or around fruit trees, it attracts insects that control codling moth and tent caterpillars.


Bring one pint of white wine almost to a boil, remove from heat and add 4 tsp of dill seeds, let steep 30 minutes and strain. Drink 1 ½ cups a half hour before retiring to sleep well.



"The love of gardening is a seed that once sown never dies." 


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