The Common Dill , Anethum graveolens

Anethum graveolens the common dill is also referred to as Lao coriander.

The name dill derives from the old English 'dile' probably related to the Anglo-Saxon dylle meaning to soothe or lull, alluding to its medicinal uses. 

The plant belongs to the Apiaceae family of plants formerly referred to as the Umbellifers whose members include the Parsley, Fennel,Caroway, Celery and Wild carrot, and some very poisonous plants that are similar in appearance to these benign relatives. Thus correct identification  is vital before using any members of this family for culinary purposes or for herbal preparations intended for internal use. { see Wild herb advise } 

Common Dill. Courtesy of H Zell. CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

Description of the common dill

the root of the dill is annual, fusiform, whitish and fibrous. The stems are cylindrical glabrous and striated, the striae {narrow band of colour of a groove or ridge} alternatively white and reddish, somewhat branched, leafy and attaining the height  of two feet. The stem is hollow and ridged. 

The leaves are alternate, glaucos, green and twice or three times divided {pinnate}. They have slender acute segments, and broad membranous stalks that are sheathed were they join the stem. These sheaths are about two inches long. The leaves are thread like somewhat similar to those of fennel.

The flowers are formed in broad, flat and terminal umbels which have no bracts. they measure about 15cm across. These umbels consist of between 30-50 spokes of a similar length.  The calyx is an obsolete margin. The petals are five in number on each individual flower and of a bright yellow colour. They are ovate, equal, concave, with a broad retuse inflexed point. the five stamens are spreading, incurved, longer than the petals, yellow and furnished with roundish anthers. 

The fruit is elliptical, compressed,divided into two carpels which are flat on the inner side, convex on the outer. They have five ridges of which the lateral ones are distinct, and margined with a pale yellow membranous expansion. The plant is aromatic.

The yellow flowered umbels of dill. Courtesy of Biff CC BY-SA 3.0 License.


Qualities and general uses of dill.

The plant is native of the corn fields of southern Europe and in parts of north Africa. It was introduced into this country about the year 1570 and is occasionally cultivated for its fruits {seeds}. It flowers from June to July. The genus name is thought to have derived from the Greek meaning to burn-alluding to the pungent seeds.

In gardens the plant was grown for culinary purposes, the fruit being as a rule imported from the south of France in large quantities for medicinal use. The flowers,leaves and seeds are used to prepare a condiment for various kinds of food. The seeds were used to heighten the relish of pickles, especially cucumber and also to adulterate British gin.

The herb boiled with fish, says Gilbert, "Gives an agreeable flavour, and renders it easy to digest.The odor of the fresh herb is aromatic and not unpleasant, but when bruised it is heavy and disagreeable" The taste is sweetish, sub-acrid and aromatic. The seeds have a more aromatic odor, and a warm pungent taste and yield which reputedly lifts the spirits. Infused in water  very little of the active manner is taken up, by distillation, however, it is obtained together with a considerable portion of essential oil.

Dried fruits of dill

Courtesy of Mnolf {Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 unported license}

 Dill dried umbel.jpg

Medicinal uses of dill {Historical account}

Dill was held in high estimation by Dioscorides, who recommended it for augmenting  the milk of nursing mothers and also for appeasing windy colic. he also mentions an oil prepared from the flowers as efficacious in cutting short the cold of intermittent fevers, and for easing the pain of sciatica and rheumatism. It was also reputed to be hypnotic and anodyne, an opinion, in which Geoffroy appears to agree with, who observed that in this respect it resembles Saffron, Nutmeg and other oily aromatics.

Forestus, highly recommended its effects in hicupping and vomiting and advised the external application of the bruised herb in the form of a cataplasm.. During the 1800's the seeds were most frequently employed in medicinal preparations, they were considered to be  stimulant and carmative, and were used chiefly in dyspepsia, flatulent colic and hiccough, particularly in infants.. Of the powdered seeds from twenty to thirty grains were considered to be the dose required. of the essential oil, 4-5 drops on sugar was given in flatulence and hiccups.

DILL WATER--- An old recipe for dill water was written as follows ----

Take dill seeds bruised-one pound.

Pour on them such quantity  of water, that after distillation, enough may remain to prevent empyrema. 

From one to two ounces may be given to an adult. In flatulence  and hiccup, to which infants are subject, a desert spoonful occasionally proves beneficial. It is also a useful way of attaining salts and magnesia. 

Dill flowers

Courtesy of Robert Reisman Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 unported license


Modern day uses of dill

Dill is an introduction to England and is only found in the wild  as a scattered casual which have spread from bird seed and grain. It is an annual plant that is similar to the perennial fennel reaching up to a meter tall. It flowers, July and August. 

The active ingredients are essential oils courmarin derivatives and fatty oil. 

Oil from the seeds are a constituent of gripe water.  Dill is also used as a culinary herb for salads, stews and pickles.

A simple home made recipe for digestive problems and loss of appetite was to put one teaspoonful of crushed fruits in 250ml of boiling water. It was left for ten minutes. Two cups were drank daily.

Dill is an antispasmodic and a calmative. And is used against upset stomachs, hiccups and insomnia and by nursing mothers to promote the flow of milk, and as an appetite stimulant. it is as already mentioned a constituent of gripe water and other children's medicines because of it s ability  to ease flatulence and colic.

The difference between the dill foliage and dill seeds lies within the pungency. There are occasions when the seeds are better because of their sharper flavour. It is used as a flavouring for soups, lamb stews and grilled or boiled meats.  It can also add spiciness to rice dishes.

Dill leaf can be added to many dishes because it enhances rather than dominates the flavour of food. When used in cooked dishes only add the dill towards the end of the cooking process.

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