Soothe Yourself With Dill

Dill (Anethum graveolens) has been used by humans for a LONG time. There is evidence going back to neolithic times of dill’s intentional cultivation. Native to the Mediterranean and southern Russia, dill is a most useful herb. Dill is an important ingredient in the preparation of fish dishes all over the world. It is also well-known as a prime spice used in pickling. Dill is also a very important ingrediant in many sauces, marinated salads (potato salad and cucumber salad for instance), breads and soups–especially borscht. In recent years it has become popular as a raw salad ingrediant. When in season, I eat dill just about every day. Early settlers called dill the ”meetin’ seed” because children were given dill seed to chew on during long sermons. The name “dill” comes from Old English dile, thought to have originated from a Norse or Anglo-Saxon word dylle meaning to soothe or lull, the plant having the carminative property of relieving gas.

Dill is started from seed in the fall. I directly seed it into the garden and thin out plants to about 10 inches apart. If they are too crowded, like many winter annuals, they are more prone to bolting (going to seed). If you wish to have a continual supply of dill, plant in succession every 3-4 weeks. Plants obtained from nurseries in pots are likely to bolt early, as dill is one of those plants that does best with direct seeding (dill doesn’t like to be transplanted). That is fine, dill is easy to grow from seed.

Plants should be in moderately fertile soil, in full sun and soil with decent drainage. Feed moderately with any balanced organic fertilizer lie fish emulsion or kelp meal, and as with any garden plant, compost tea keeps plants vigorous and healthy. Plants may begin to bolt as summer approaches. Sometimes well-established plants with well-mulched root systems will last longer into the season than plants that are less protected.

Harvest leaves as needed. To harvest the seeds, cut the flower stalks just before seeds begin to ripen and turn a tan color. Hang the stalks upside down in a warm, well ventilated room away from direct light. Place a small paper bag up around the flower heads, fastened to the stalks. Poke a few holes in the sides of the bag for air circulation. As the seeds ripen, they will drop and collect on the bottom of the bag.

Seeds can be stored up to a year in air-tight containers as long as they’re kept away from heat and bright light. Seeds must be very dry before they are stored; if any signs of moisture appear in the container shortly after storage, remove the seeds and dry them further.

Dill can be dried or frozen for preserving. Fresh is always best, but it is good to prepare yourself for those long summer months when fresh dill will not be plentiful.

The variety ‘bouquet’ has showy yellow flowers. Most commonly available is the variety ‘Long Island mammoth’ which is what the commercial growers use. If you are looking for intense flavor, ‘superdukat’ is your variety. One of my favorites, ‘dukat’ is a heavy-foliated variety. If space is an issue, try ‘fernleaf’ which is a dwarf variety (good for growing indoors under grow lights or in window sills). There is an Asian species Anethum sowa, also known as Indian dill that is a pungent, somewhat more bitter variety, grown extensively in Japan and India. The fresh leaves are used with steamed rice and to flavor soup. The seeds are used to treat flatulence. Commonly used in curry powders. I am not sure that it is, indeed, another species, but it is sold that way by a few seed companies. The variety ‘vierling’ produces deep, blue-green color and finely cut foliage. A good late flower strain for commercial leaf production; it is also used as a cut flower, as it produces attractive, light greenish flowers.

Baker’s Creek is a good source for dill seed (and many other heirloom crops). The Thyme Garden Herb Company sells lots of cool herbs including of course, dill.

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