It snowed on Seedy Saturday. It's happened before and it will probably happen again. Spring took two steps forward and one step back. I recently read that one of the first signs of Spring in Ukraine is when you see the dill sprouting. I have never planted dill as I've heard it's difficult to grow in Vancouver and my partner hates it with a passion. I have a nostalgic fondness for dill because it is an herb in my mother's garden and reminds me of her perogies, potato salad, borscht and dill pickles. I also love fresh dill fronds on gravlax and Swedish open face sandwiches made with shrimp and creme fraiche. This year I suggest we all plant dill to mark this spring as a painful time in Ukraine's history, but also as a sign of hope for the country's future. I will be bringing dill into the classrooms and getting the children to put the seeds in pots, to watch it grow as we watch how events unfold in the news. If you have a relative or a neighbour who grows the herb, make a point of asking for some seed to grow. You may be sowing seeds that were originally grown in Poland, Germany or Ukraine.
Dill grows well with cucumbers and onions and attracts lacewings, hoverflies and wasps. It's also used as food by the swallowtail butterfly. Sprinkle dill leaves on your cucurbits to repel squash bugs. Plant them away from tomatoes as they attract tomato hornworms.
Dill is a good example of an herb that helps us to digest and absorb the food plants we grow in our garden. The herb is used as a digestive aid, food preservative and a cure for flatulence. It has traditionally been combined with chamomile to calm children, and in Holland dill and fennel were steeped in milk as a soporific drink. The word dill means "to calm or soothe", and it is a traditional remedy for cholic. Like fennel, dill helps stimulate breast milk. Dill was used as "meetinghouse seeds" for children to chew on to curb restlessness during long and tedious church services. Gladiators were fed dill for courage, to calm the swallowtails in their stomachs. It was so popular in England during the reign of Edward I that he imposed a dill tax to pay for repairs to London Bridge. It was also once used as a cure for the hiccups.
Dill was once considered a charm against evil and an aphrodisiac. German and Belgian brides used to sew a piece of dill to their wedding dress and recite a charm:
"I have you, mustard and dill,
Husband, when I speak,
you stay still!"
In German dill is called "Gerkenkraut" which must mean "(pickled) gherkin herb". It actually originates from southwestern Asia where there is a variety grown called Indian Dill (Anthemum sowa) which is used to make a dish called dhansak. As you can deduce from many Old World recipes, dill has naturalized over much of Europe. The basic chemical components of dill essential oil are Limonene, D-Carvone, Dillapiol, Eugenol, Terpinene, Phellandrene, and Myristicin. The name graveolens means "heavy odour" which is from the carvone, which gives it the carminative effect. Limonene and Phellandrene may cause photosensitivity to the skin, so wear gloves if handling the fresh plant in the hot sun or wait until dawn or dusk and wash hands afterwards.
Dill needs to be sown after danger of frost in a sunny spot in well-drained soil. It likes to be sown directly into the garden but I am going to experiment with transplanting small seedlings started inside. It will need to be watered during dry periods. It has a similar appearance to fennel, but dill seeds have a flat edge around the ridged seed and the stems are hollow rather than pithy. Dill takes 6-10 weeks to flower. I know bees love my fennel plant so it will be interesting to compare their interest in the dill.