Dill, the Pickling Spice

Dill, the Pickling Herb

For centuries, dill has had a place in gardens and history. This legendary herb was used in garlands to crown war heroes on their return home. The Greeks and Romans used dill extensively. Although once considered a medicinal herb, today it is used in cookery, and especially in pickling and brines. Here, we will discuss dill - its history, medicinal and culinary uses, how it is grown, how it is harvested and stored, and give some tip for usage.

History of Dill

Dill was considered by the Romans to be a sign of luck and by the ancient Greeks a sign of wealth. Native to the Mediterranean and southern Russian regions, and naturalized today in many parts of the world, dill is known for both medicinal and culinary properties. The name dill comes from the Norse word dilla, which means "to soothe or lull." It has been long known for carminative powers, relieving stomach cramps, and flatulence. Dill was carried dried in a pouch and worn over the heart by mystics to ward off the "evil eye." If you served a cup of dill tea to an evil witch, it robbed her of her powers.

Today, dill is used mainly for making pickles. Americans alone consume more than 9 pounds of pickles per person each year. That is a lot of dill.

Medicinal Uses

Dill has long been known for its soothing properties. It is used for increasing mother's milk, and also for treating congestion in the breast from nursing. It is also said to stimulate the appetite. Its infusion is mild and brings relief to babies suffering from colic. Eight drops of the essential oil added to a pint of water makes a proper dosage. Up to 8 tablespoons a day is recommended. A tea can be made of 2 tablespoons of dill steeped in a porcelain pot. Never make any herbal tea in a metal pot, as it robs the concoction of its potency.

Cultivating Dill

Dill is very easy to grow. It looks a lot like fennel, with a long taproot and a single stalk. Flowers grow in umbrels about 6 inches across, and have tiny yellow blossoms. It grows to a height of 3 feet, and flowers July through September.

Plant dill in a spot that will be permanent, as it self seeds each year. Try to locate it in a protected area, as the spindly stalk is subject to wind damage. Sow seed directly into the ground after all danger of frost is over, in rows 2 to 3 feet apart. Dill likes moderately rich, well-drained, and moist soil, with a pH balance of 6.0. It prefers full sun for optimum growth.

If growing for seed, you may not see seed until the second year. It may possibly go to seed by end of summer if planted early enough. It does not transplant well. About the only care dill needs is regular weeding.

Harvesting and Storing Dill

Clip stems for use when the plant is well established in the early morning. It will only last a few days when refrigerated, so only pick as needed. Dry dill for year-round use by spreading the sprigs on a non-metallic surface and keep it in a warm, dark place for several days. Store in an airtight container. It is much easier just to cut fresh dill and freeze the fresh leaves.

TIP: Our expert gardening adviser, Karen Bosin suggests, "Cut some fresh dill flowers to add to your summer flower bouquets — the color and shape of the dill flowers add a nice dimension to any flower arrangement."

Seeds will be a light brown color, and the lower seed ripens first. The rest will ripen when dry. Handle carefully when you cut the sheaves to ensure you don't lose a lot of the seeds. Cut stems long enough so they can be hung in a dark place. Spread paper on a tray below the sheaves to catch the falling seeds. You may need to strip the seed by hand when fully dry.

Tips For The Chef

Don't rip the leaves when mincing for flavoring or a salad. Instead, cut finely with kitchen shears to preserve the delicate flavor.

TIP: Kathy says, "Dill is a delicious addition to salads — simply toss some young shoots in with other greens. And don't forget to add fresh dill to the bowl when you're mashing new potatoes."

Dill goes very well with fish, so make a dill sauce of plain yogurt, 3 tablespoons of freshly minced dill and 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard.

Dill is an important herb if you plan on making your own pickles. Even if not, it adds a delicate, tangy taste to many meals. Planting dill is a one-shot thing, so try dill in your herb garden this year.

TIP: Kathy adds, "Here is a link to a list of refrigerator pickle recipes — the absolute best way to make pickles with a good, solid crunch."