I am always a bit suspicious of a garden without any dill.I know it’s silly, but I feel for a vegetable garden to have any credibility at all it needs at least one rhubarb plant towering along the edge and a healthy stand of dill waving down at the beans and carrots.
Full to the brim with these and many other oddball notions best left unexplored, I grew dill and rhubarb for years before developing a taste for either one. I thought of dill as simply a pickle plant and since I was under the ridiculous impression that making my own pickles was all too difficult and mysterious, I simply grew dill as an ornamental. Looking back, it’s enough to make a person beat their chest and wail over the woeful waste. I might even get an upset stomach and lose sleep over the whole thing if it weren’t for discovering dill tea.
Dill tea can be made from ground seeds or best of all from its tender young leaves harvested at their peak just before the dill bursts into blossom. Dill takes its name from the Norse word “dilla” which translates to “lull’. A most appropriate moniker as dill tea not only alleviates upset stomachs but is an insomniac’s best friend. It makes the best bedtime beverage for ensuring a great night’s sleep.
Records found in Egyptian tombs suggest that even back then dill was the drug of choice for upset stomachs. Today herbalists still look to a simple dill tea made from either the ground seeds or young leaves to alleviate stomach aches and flatulence. Greek and Roman soldiers used to place burned dill seed on wounds to promote healing. They also used to cover their heads with dill leaves to induce a good night’s sleep. My guess is that in their eagerness to rest up before going to battle, they skipped reading the part about making the leaves into tea. Imagine those poor women having to contend with all that grass stained bedding in the days before automatic washing machines. And wouldn’t you be the perfect shrew to tell your husband you didn’t care if he was too sleepy to aim his arrows in the morning, you were sick to death of beating dill leaf stains out of the bedclothes down at the river? But I digress.
A poultice made from the leaves is reputed to alleviate boils or reduce joint pain.
Dill tea aids digestion and prevents constipation. It is also recommended for increasing nursing mother’s milk and relieving breast congestion. A key ingredient in gripe water, a mild infusion can be used to treat colic in babies.
When you think about it, dill is a pretty important herb for new mothers. First there are the midnight cravings for dill pickles and ice cream, followed by the sage advice to pack a jar of pickles with you in your ninth month in case your water breaks. I would think packing a cell phone would make more sense, but what do I know? The pickle advice logic is that if your water breaks you can cleverly drop the jar of pickles causing it to break and disguise what actually happened.
Of course, this would raise all kinds of other questions such as what you were doing with a jar of pickles in the mall in the first place.
I never packed a jar in my ninth month. I knew myself too well. If my water broke I would drop the jar and it would just bounce around my ankles but not break. And then where would I be? Standing in the mall with broken water and an intact jar of pickles on the floor, that’s where. There is only so much embarrassment one woman can take. But I digress once again.
A Threefold Harvest –
Dill Leaves – Wait until your dill plants are well established to start harvesting leaves for culinary uses and tea. You can preserve leaves for use over winter by drying young leaves thoroughly and storing in glass jars in a dark, cool cupboard or by simply stuffing a suitable container with fresh dill leaves and popping it into the freezer. When you want some tea pinch out a couple teaspoons of leaves (dried or frozen) top with boiling water, steep for a few minutes and enjoy.
Dill Blossoms – When the dill bursts into flower the leaf harvest season is officially over. This certainly puts you in a pickle but not a jam. Cucumbers, beets, carrots and all kinds of vegetables can be made into delicious pickles thanks to dill blossoms infusing the jars with that all important flavouring we couldn’t do without.
The flower heads or leaves are also used for flavouring oils and vinegars.
Dill Seed – Harvest seed for culinary use before they are fully ripe. Snip off the blossoms and put them in a paper bag to ripen in a warm, dry spot and then shake the bag vigorously to knock the dried seeds off the blooms. Dried dill seed can be stored indefinitely in glass jars in a cool, dark space.
The seeds can be used whole or ground up in a coffee grinder. They can be enjoyed in cooking, for tea or as a healthy substitute for salt. Chewing on dill seeds will give you naturally fresh breath.
Culinary Uses –
Dill pairs perfectly with egg, fish and seafood dishes and is great sprinkled on bland dishes, especially potatoes, cucumbers and rice.
Growing Conditions – A hardy annual, dill thrives in loose, nutrient rich, moist soil in full sun. Be sure to water during dry spells or your dill will quickly bolt and go to seed resulting in a minimal leaf harvest. For best results sow seed directly into ground in the spring as it doesn’t appreciate being transplanted. Leave dill to go to seed it will happily self sow itself and return to you like a welcome old friend in the spring.
Fernleaf Dill – This All American Winner for 1992 is shorter than most dill plants reaching a compact height of just 45 cm (18 in) making it less likely to flop over and more suitable for containers or small gardens. Slow to bolt.
Hercules Dill – This is probably the best dill for leaf production. Slow to flower and produces lots of leaves. Available from Richters Herbs.
Mammoth Dill – Reaching an impressive height of 1 metre (40 inches) this is an old tried and true favourite of gardeners. Ample yields of leaves, blossoms and seeds.
I recently learned that dill is a favourite host plant for the caterpillars that morph into beautiful swallowtail butterflies. It’s a huge comfort to me to know thing that during all those years when I was growing dill simply to give my garden some credibility at least something was smart enough to reap the benefits.