Herb to Know: Dill

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Photo by Barbara Pleasant

Genus:Anethum graveolens

• Reseeding annual

Don’t be misled by the dainty look of dill’s threadlike foliage: This herb is a very hard worker. The fast-growing annual is a culinary chameleon, attracts tiny beneficial wasps and flies to the garden and even can help soothe sensitive stomachs.

Native to Eurasia, dill (Anethum graveolens) is diverse in the kitchen. Snip tender leaves into salads, sprinkle them over steamed vegetables, or use larger quantities to flavor fish. The fresh version delivers much more flavor than dried leaves.

During the long days of summer, dill plants crown themselves with flattened umbels of yellow flowers, which become abuzz with flying insects for a few short weeks. Soon thereafter, the umbels become heavy with ripening fruits, which we call seeds. To collect seeds by hand easily, place a paper bag over the browning stems, cut them close to the ground, and hang them upside down in a warm place for two weeks. Then crush the dried umbels with your hands.

Dill’s entire seed-to-seed drama can pass in only two months, or even faster. Although you often will find dill seedlings sold alongside other herbs in spring, this is one herb that always grows best from direct-sown seeds. To make sure you always have a few dill stems when you want them, make successive sowings at three-week intervals until 10 weeks before your first fall freeze. When allowed to shed seeds in the garden, dill often self-sows.

There are many varieties from which to choose, including ‘Fernleaf’, a dwarf at only 18 inches tall, and stiff-stemmed ‘Vierling’, often grown for use as a cut flower. Use any of dill’s feathery blue-green varieties to make pickles, knead into bread or brew into a tummy-pleasing tea (steep 1 teaspoon of dried seeds in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes). Dill’s longstanding reputation as a remedy for indigestion and ulcers recently has been validated by two studies: Scientists found that dill inhibits the secretion of stomach acids in mice, and may help protect a ruptured stomach lining from irritants.

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