History of Dill

Dill, sometimes called dill weed (anethum graveolens), is part of the Apiaceae family that includes plants with hollow stems, called umbellifers. Other plants in this family include carrots, fennel, cilantro and parsley. The Latin name anethum gravolens comes from the words “ano” and “theo” meaning upwards running and “gravis” and “oleo” meaning strong smelling. The common name dill comes from Old Norse word “dilla” and means to calm or soothe.

Dill Anatomy from Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany, by Otto Wilhelm Thomé

Dill originated in southern Russia, the Mediterranean, and Western Africa. It has been used as a medicinal herb for at least 5,000 years. The Ancient Egyptians used dill as a soothing medicine, and it was also used in aphrodisiacs and to ward off witches. The Greeks used dill as a symbol of wealth. The Romans believed that dill brought good fortune. The Romans also used dill leaves in the wreaths they made to recognize athletes and heroes. In ancient times soldiers would apply burnt dill seeds to wounds to help them heal.

Dill is mentioned in the Bible (Matthew 23:23) as an herb that was tithed. This fact means that at that time dill was already being cultivated, because only plants that were actively cultivated were used in tithing. In translating the Bible into English, the word for dill was incorrectly translated as Anise and this has been perpetuated in many English versions of the Bible.

In "old wives tales" dill, hung over the doorway or entrance to the house (and over babies' cradles) was a symbol of love and would act as a protection against harm. Additionally, a cup of tea brewed from the leaves and seeds of the dill plant would take away the evil power of a witch. In the 1627 play Nymphidia by Michael Drayton, dill is mentioned in the following lines:

'Therewith her Vervain and her Dill,
That hindereth Witches of their Will.'

Dill has long been used as a medicine to soothe stomach ailments and gas. In fact, dill seeds were often served after large meals to help calm the effects of over-indulgence. In 1525 Bankes' Herbal said that “dill assuageth wicked winds in the womb” (meaning the stomach).

Because of its strong flavor, dill has also been used for centuries to enhance the flavor of vegetables, meats and seafood.

While pickles have been around for centuries, no one knows when dill began to be added as a flavoring. A 1680 recipe calls for dill in a pickled cauliflower recipe. A 1640 recipe from the cook to England's King Charles I calls for dill to be added to pickled cucumbers. Despite their murky origins, dill pickles are now the most common pickle variety in America.

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The World's Healthiest Foods: Dill
The Herbal Spiral: Some History of Dill
Chesapeake Bay Herb Society: 2010 Herb of the Year: Dill
Suite 101: Bible Herbs, Spices and Fiber Plants

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