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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Herb Of The Week - Dill

The herb of the week is Dill. (peucedanum graveolens) also known as (anethum graveolus) This is another one that my mom grew a lot when I was a kid. Her Homemade Dill Pickles are some of the best I have ever had. I use her recipe, and they are almost as good as hers. I’ll include the recipe later.

The word Dill is believed to have come from the Norse “Dilla” meaning to calm or to lull.This has a dual meaning in that not only is Dill tea used to treat insomnia, but Dill seed is said to help relieve gas and acts as an antiflatulent.

Dill, like Cilantro and a few other herbs, is a plant that produces leaves, that are used as an herb, and seeds that are used as a spice

When speaking of the leaves, either in fresh or dried form, it is customary to call it “Dill Weed“, while the seeds (technically these are fruits of the plant, that contain a smaller seed, but let’s not get technical) are generally simply referred to as “Dill” although some cooks use the term “Dill Seed”

For my purposes, I will differentiate where necessary by using the terms Dill Weed, to refer to the feathery plants, and Dill Seed to refer specifically to the seeds.
When making pickles, my mother used the whole plant, the fronds, stems and seeds included, and simply called it “Dill”.

Dill is technically a perennial, and in the right climate will last several years, but it is sensitive to cold, will lose its hardiness at temperatures below about 40° F and will winter kill at temperatures below freezing so, for most people it is easier to just reseed every year.

I just let a few heads seed completely off at the end of the season, and I have enough Dill plants growing everywhere the next year that I never have to plant it. I simply move them around to where I want them and let them go.

When planting from seed plant directly in the ground, in mid spring. It should grow well in most soils, and do well in full sun or partial shade. It doesn’t do quite as well in full shade, however, it will grow in full shade, so if that is the only place you have room to plant it, don’t let that stop you. Keep in mind that the plants can get up to 30” tall, so you want to make sure you plant them where they have room to grow. They will be spindly, so if you live in an area where there is a lot of wind, plant them closer togther so they can support each other, or you may end up staking them to keep them from falling over.

You should see plants in about two weeks and be able to harvest in about 8 weeks. Some gardeners recommend reseeding in early summer, so that you have an ongoing crop. But we always have more Dill than we need anyway, so have never done this.

Dill should not be planted to close to Fennel, as the plants can cross pollinate and you will get a hybrid mix between the two. This may be good or bad, but hybrids generally do not reproduce effectively, so you likely won't have any new plants next year.

Small amounts of Dill can be harvested throughout the season, and if taken from the end of the stalk, will encourage some new leaf growth, and prolong the growing season. The plant will stop producing leaves or fronds as soon as it starts to produce flowers. So if you are not looking for flowers or seeds, as soon as flowers appear, you can cut the entire plant down to about 2”. Although not all of the plants will regenerate, you should have some new growth from the existing roots before the end of the season.

If you are harvesting seeds, wait until the heads have fully developed and just started to turn from yellow to brown, but before they have completely turned brown. Then the heads can be cut and allowed to dry in a paper bag. The seeds should loosen and fall free as they dry.

Ancient Romans believed Dill had fortifying qualities. Gladiators were given food covered with Dill, to give them strength. It is one of the earliest medicinal herbs known in Europe, widely regarded as one of the best for stomach aches in small children. Dill is mostly a culinary herb today, but it does have some value in medicine, mostly as a stomach soother and anti-gas remedy. Dill is known for acting as an antibacterial and antispasmodic agent and as a diuretic. It is also said to increase mother's milk and help treat breast congestion from nursing. It is mild, and makes a good remedy for colic in babies.

Dill water is used often for relief of the above symptoms, and can be made by adding 8 drops of Dill oil to 1 pint of water. Take up to 8 teaspoons per day of this concoction. Dill can also be made into a Tea, and sweetened with honey, or prepared as an infusion by steeping 2 teaspoons of Dill Seed in 1 cup of boling water for 10-15 minutes, then straining. Take 1-2 cups per day.

An alternate method to administer Dill is to place 5 drops of Oil on a sugar cube.

Instructions for how to make your own essential oils from herbs can be found by clicking here.

Dill is widely used in pickling, where most of the plant is used. “Dill Pickles” have become a North American classic and in Europe Sauerkraut and Dill vinegars have been popular for centuries.
It is especially popular in Russia and Scandinavia, where it is used in sauces, casseroles and soups.
It is also used on cakes and breads, particularly in rye breads, the way caraway is used. Dill should be used sparingly as the flavor grows. Its' flavor works well in sour cream and yogurt sauces. The chopped fresh leaves are frequently used with trout and salmon, shrimp, deviled eggs, green beans, cauliflower, beets, soups, cottage and cream cheese. Fresh, frozen or dried, the ferny foliage and seeds are a tasty flavoring for fish, lamb, new potatoes and peas.
Remember to add Dill at the end of cooking process, because cooking will destroy much of its flavor. It has a strong flavor so be sparing when adding it to food or it can overwhelm other flavors.

Moms Dill Pickles

Pickling Brine.
4 C Hot Water
1 C White Vinegar
¼ C Salt.

Mix well, until salt is completely dissolved. It may help to cook this on the stovetop in order to dissolve the salt, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.

Fill prepared wide mouth quart jars as full as possible with whole pickling cukes. (Any cuts in the skin of the cucumbers will result in a soggy pickle.)
3 cloves fresh garlic
1 small handful of dried Dill (stems, heads, seeds are all ok) I tried to get a measurement for this, and failed, but she uses about 5-7 pieces of Dill 4-6 inches long.
Fill to just below the top with Pickling Brine.

Place jars in cold water bath and heat to boiling. As soon as they boil, take them out, turn them upside down and let them seal. (You are not trying to cook the pickles, just seal the bottles.)

No matter what month the pickles are made, My mom always said they wouldn’t be good until Thanksgiving. So, she made pickles all summer, and by Thanksgiving they were ready. Now, it’s possible they may be ready sooner, I don’t know. I do know that if you eat them before they are done pickling they taste very nasty, so I always wait until Thanksgiving and open the first bottle of this years pickles to go with Thanksgiving dinner.

Baby Carrots with Dill Butter

1 (16 ounce) package baby carrots
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Dill Weed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place carrots in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook 10 minutes, until tender. Remove from heat, and drain. Gently toss with butter, Dill, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

Dill is commonly used as a protection herb, and is often placed in a child's crib to keep him safe. It can also be carried on the person in a sachet or charm, and dried seed heads are hung in doorways for protection purposes. A sprig was hung over a doorway in bygone days in Europe, to protect against witches and sorcery.

Dill is said to inspire lust and passion, and to elevate existing feelings of love. To use in love and lust charms and sachets. Place the seeds in a muslin bag under your shower water, or bath water to make you irresistible to your lover.

I wonder... ...if I eat a Dill pickle, instead of taking a bath in Dill water, hanging a sachet of Dill seed around my neck, and putting Dill sprigs under my pillow and over my doorway, will I still be safe from witches and sorcerers, and irresistable to my wife?

Maybe I should do it both ways, just in case.

Luckily, we have plenty of dill growing.

A special thanks to the following sites, that I used in my research this week:

Epicenter, Encyclopedia of Spices
Garden Action
Gardens Ablaze

You may also want to visit these sites, where this article is linked:
A High and Noble Calling
Hooked on Houses (Hooked on Fridays)

1 comment:

  1. I like dill to very much, always have some dried in my kitchen. But when I cook fish I take the fresh one. Hope you aren't visited by witches. ;-)