Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Herb Series–Dill

Dill is a feathery plant from the family “Umbelliferae”, the genus “Anethum” and its botanical name is “Anethum graveolens”. It is an aromatic plant with wispy leaves that often grows to 3 feet tall. It is one of few herbs in which both the leaves and seeds are used – the leaves known generally as dill weed. The flavors of the seeds are stronger than the leaves, and are similar to caraway. Dill is most often an annual, but if left undisturbed it may reseed itself for the next season.

Dill is native to southern Russia, western Africa and the Mediterranean region. It has been used for many centuries, being mentioned in the Bible and in early Egyptian writings and was used in Greek and Roman cultures.

Cultivating:

Dill plants do not transplant well, so it is best to grow from seeds in early summer. The plants do well in most soils as long as they are not soggy, and they prefer full sun. Dill plants are good companion plants for cabbage and onions, but not for carrots. Keep watered well, but allow to dry well before watering again.

Start harvesting dill when 4 or 5 leaves have formed on the stem. Keep flower heads removed to extend the growing season. The more you pinch or snip the plants the fuller they will grow, so harvest often.

Try saving the seeds for next year – after flowering let the heads dry on the stem, then cut and dry thoroughly. Remove the seeds and store in paper envelopes or in glass jars. The dill seed is a brownish oval, flat on one side.

Medicinal:

Through the years there have been many medicinal uses for dill weed and seed. There are no known allergic properties to dill, but it’s said that pregnant women should not use it in medicinal amounts – but those dill pickles are okay!

Benefits include – anti-inflammatory (arthritis), anti-bacterial, bone health (high calcium content), digestive care (relieves gas pains and other stomach issues), insomnia, immune system care, headache, hiccups, oral care.

In ancient times burned seeds were applied to wounds, and dill tea was often used. To prepare tea, use 2 teaspoons dill seeds per cup of hot water, steep and drink.

Dill oil (an essential oil extracted from the leaves, seeds and stems) is often used for massage due to its calming effects. Simply add a small amount to a carrier oil, such as sweet almond oil, peanut oil, sesame or sunflower oil.

Nutrition:

1 ounce of dried dill weed (approximately 2 to 2.38 tablespoons) has 12 calories and contains no fat, cholesterol or sugars. Small amounts of sodium and carbohydrates (in the form of fiber) can be found. It contains high amounts of vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and potassium, as traces of several other nutrients.

Cooking Uses:

Dill is a prominent ingredient in pickles, and can be added to many foods including soups, dips, salads and vegetables. It is often used in cooking fish. There are many regions/countries that have dill as a favorite ingredient in traditional foods, including Germany and Scandinavia.

Add dill at the end of cooking as its flavor can dissipate with cooking. Also, it is best used fresh because it loses flavor when dried. Freeze-dried dill, however, will hold its flavor several months.

To dry your own dill place washed stems on paper towel and cover with a second paper towel. Place in microwave and use low heat for 2-minute increments until dry and crumbly. This will not give you the optimum dill flavor in most cases, but it is useable.

To make your own dill vinegar, soak dill seeds in vinegar for several days then strain into clean bottles.

I normally only grow basil in the summer, but think I just might try a packet of dill seeds!
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Check back tomorrow for the holidays and observances for May – you’ll find them on the “Holidays” page.
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