This well-known herb has been cultivated since at least 3000 BC by the ancient Babylonians and Assyrians, and is mentioned more than once in the Bible. Dill was thought by medieval writers to provide protection from evil and enhance aphrodisiac potions. It has been cultivated in England since 1570, and used to be much more popular than it is today. Originally, it grew wild from southern Russia down through the Middle East and Mediterranean area. The word “dill” comes from the Old Norse dilla, meaning “soothing,” via the Old English word dylle. As with celery, the Latin species name, graveolens, means “strongly scented.”
The soothing effects of dill have been celebrated for a long time. Culpepper wrote:
The Dill being boiled and drank, is good to ease swellings and pains; it also stays the belly and stomach from casting. The decoction thereof helps women that are troubled with the pains and windiness of the mother, if they sit therein. It stays the hiccough, being boiled in wine, and but smelled unto being tied in a cloth. The seed is of more use than the leaves, and more effectual to digest raw and vicious humours, and is used in medicines that expel wind, and the pains proceeding therefrom.
Another member of the family Apiacieae, dill is a close cousin of fennel, caraway, carrots, parsley, and anise. All of these plants produce feathery foliage, tall umbels of flowers, and distinctive, aromatic seeds. Despite dill’s delicate appearance, it’s actually quite hardy. Dill plants are generally tall, growing 4-5’, but both dwarf and mammoth varieties exist.
In the case of dill, both the foliage and dried seeds are used as herbs to flavour a wide variety of foods. Dill complements fish dishes particularly well, and is commonly served with smoked salmon. And, of course, dill is used to flavour dill pickles — the flowers are sometimes used for this purpose. This is a very common culinary herb in the cuisines of Scandinavia, Germany, and Russia.
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