Anethum graveolens var. esculentum. Anethon is the Greek word for dill. Graveolens means strong smelling and esculentum means edible in Latin.
Dill is an annual whose distribution is widespread due to its medicinal popularity. Being native to such diverse climates as Central Asia, Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, parts of Turkey, northern Tibet, Afghanistan, Mongolia, northern India and Pakistan is an indication of its hardiness.
Dill also grows wild as a natural companion to field crops in southern Europe.
At first glance the plant resembles fennel, but it has a lacier foliage and is more fragile in appearance. The plant develops many branches along a main stem, which eventually peaks as a cluster of umbels with yellow flowers. As with many other vegetables, the seed heads form a beautiful pattern.
Plant in early spring when the danger of frost is over. Dill self-seeds quite easily because the seeds fall off if the bush is rattled.
Saving The Seeds
Although pollinated by insects, dill will not cross with any other herb and the seeds will be pure. It is an easy one to save for the kitchen and for garden seed.
When the seeds are light brown, cut the umbels with care and dry them on canvas or paper, in the shade. With a little beating the seeds will fall, giving you clean seeds.
The seeds will last three years in dry, cool and dark conditions. There are 900 seeds to the gram.
Dill seeds go, along with cucumbers, into the pickle jar. The leaves are used in fine sauces in European dishes. Dill is often added to potato dishes and salads. Dill tea, made from the seeds, is a traditional gripe water for babies and is used to help treat colic.
Dill is the perfect herb to grow in between broccoli and cabbages as it repels the cabbage moth.
On The Lookout
There are varieties that are grown primarily for their leaf, and others for their seeds. Leafy varieties, such as the German Vierling, have abundant fragrant foliage and are slow to bolt. Long Island Mammoth and Bouquet are early to go to seed, and produce extra-large flowers and lots of seeds.
Lactofermented Dill Pickles
• 2 litres water
• 5 tsp sea salt
• 10 grapevine leaves, 3 horseradish or bay leaves, or 1 tsp of black tea
• 8 garlic cloves, peeled
• 2 bunches of dill
• 1 tsp each of black peppercorns, chilli flakes and mustard seeds (or to taste)
• Enough pickling cucumbers to fill a 2 litre jar
• A 2 litre jar
1. Make the brine by dissolving the sea salt in one litre of water. (Preferably rainwater or leave chlorinated water to stand in sunlight for an hour). If using tea leaves, add leaves to a cup of boiling water, steep then drain and add to brine.
2. Add half of the leaves to the jar, a few cloves of garlic, the dill and a third of the spices.
3. Pack half of the cucumbers tightly into the jar.
4. Add another layer of leaves, garlic and spices. Add another tightly packed layer of cucumbers and then the rest of the garlic and spices.
5. Pour the brine over the pickles, leaving five centimetres of space at the top. Place a leaf on top of the pickles. Place a weight – either a stone, weight or sacrificial piece of carrot – on top to keep the pickles under the brine. Place the lid on the jar.
6. Ferment at room temperature for approximately one week, preferably around 20°C. If using a tight lid, burp daily to release excess pressure. The brine should turn cloudy and bubbly, and the pickles should taste sour when done.
7. Store in the fridge. They should keep for six to twelve months.
Adapted from The Seed Savers’ Handbook by June and Michel Fanton (Seed Savers’ Network 1993)