The Random Herbalist: Dill


“I think pickles are cucumbers that sold out. They sold their soul to the devil, and the devil is dill…” Unknown

Ethel always grabbed the dill plants by the lower stems and yanked hard, shaking off the clumps of dirt clinging to the roots. “You need the seedy kind,” she’d say, intent on making those cucumber pickles so necessary for the dishes she cooked for my Danish father-in-law.  And her garden in town, so small compared to her farm garden, provided little more than flowers. But I remember my red-haired mother-in-law’s dill bushes, planted just a few steps away from the back door.

Ethel with Knute, her Danish husband, and Kay, their first child
Ethel with Knute, her Danish husband, and Kay, their first child

Once the dill crossed the threshold, off to the sink it went, doused with fresh, clean water, and a few more shakes. Then Ethel folded it, almost like a white napkin at a wedding feast, and thrust large sprigs into each of the shining quart-sized canning jars lined up on her kitchen counters. Brimming with vinegar, sugar, and small cucumbers, these jars boiled in the canner and then Ethel set them on the immense shelves in her basement. Just as her Norwegian ancestors did.

A long ways from the medieval monastery gardens that grew dill for use as a medicinal herb. The monks took these herb plants with them as they made their way to northern Europe.

“Dill”  (Anethum graveolens) comes from the old Norse word dilla, meaning “to lull.” In the old days, the Vikings thought that dill water had a calming effect on the workings of the digestive system; so effective was this remedy that mothers lulled colicky babies to sleep with a concoction of dill water.  Dill has been known since ancient times and cooks used both its feathery leaves, fine as a baby’s hair, and seeds. Nursing mothers used it to stimulate milk production.


The major producers (and users) of dill are Russia, Poland, Scandinavia, Turkey, and the U.K. ; take Khmeli-suneli, a dry-roasted Georgian spice mixture, for example, used to add punch to beef stew. An approximate recipe is:

2 T. dried marjoram
2 T. dried dill
2 T. dried summer savory
2 T. dried mint
2 T. dried parsley
2 T. ground coriander
1 T. dried fenugreek leaves
2 t. dried ground marigold petals
1 t. ground black pepper
1 t. ground fenugreek seeds
2 crushed bay leaves

Gernot Katzer writes:

A further example is the Georgian national condiment tqemali sauce made from a local wild plum variety (cherry plum, Prunus cerasifera called t’q’emali [ტყემალი] in Georgian and written tkemali [ткемали] in Russian). It is prepared simply by boiling and puréeing ripe or unripe plums; as flavourings, khmeli-suneli (or, according to some recipes, dill alone), lemon juice and garlic are used. The taste is delightful, fruity-acidic-spicy, somewhat comparable to tamarind sauces. T’q’emali can be boiled down to yield dry, elastic layers known as fruit leather (t’q’lap’i [ტყლაპი], also tklapi or tqlapi).

Growing dill is easy; just be sure to cut the leaves before the flowers appear.  In the gardening world, dill is believed to reinforce the growth of cabbage, onions, and lettuce.

Gerard's Herbal[Summer means herbs, one of the few types of plants relatively resistant to the incessant chewing of deer and other so-called rodents of the forests AND suburbs.  Whether it’s because of the odor of the leaves or another,  possibly mythical quality, herbs DO tend to outfox the mouths of deer.  See Gerards’s Herbal, too.]

© 2009 C. Bertelsen

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