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Dill

Mmmm! Pickles!

I planted dill for the first time this year in hopes of using it to make my grandmother's dill pickle recipe. Now it has grown up to my waist and I have no clue what to do with it. Do I use it fresh or dried? Please advise. I'd also appreciate any tips on making dill pickles.

How terrific that you includesd the lovely herb, dill, in your garden. According to your question, it sounds like it is growing very nicely for you and yes, it is time to pay attention to it because this is the time of year to capture its best flavor.

The word dill comes from the Saxon word dilla which means to lull. Medicinally, it is calming to the gastric system and was known to cure hiccups. It was mentioned in ancient Egyptian texts and seems to have always been regarded as a beneficial herb.

I think explaining the growth habit of the plant might help you understand the culinary value of the different parts. Dill, Anethum graveolens, is in the Apiaceae family, formerly known as the umbel or carrot family (fennel, caraway, parsley and celery are in the same family). This tall, slender plant with delicate fernlike leaves on a sturdy central stem is an annual that grows from seeds. Once it has grown to its full height, it will produce the characteristic flat, round head made up of many tiny yellow flowers. Each of these will eventually turn into a seed. Dill weed is the delicate leaf which, when dried, should remain green and aromatic. Its taste is a great complement, fresh or dry, to sauces for salmon and other fish and is refreshing in salads and cucumber recipes, thus pickles.

If you want just the leaves to use, cut them off the stem before the plant goes to seed. Once the plant puts its energy into producing seeds, the leaves no longer serve a purpose for it and they wither and lose their color and flavor.

The seeds have a much more concentrated flavor than the leaves. They are a bit tricky to harvest; once they are mature, they fall to the ground with just a nudge from the slightest breeze or touch of the hand to grow the following year. To insure the seeds end up in your herb cupboard, take a large brown paper shopping bag and gently bend the seedhead over so it is in the bag. Then run your hand firmly over the seedhead. The seeds will fall into the bag; move them to a glass jar for storage.

My dill pickle recipe calls for the leaves and seeds and I am guessing yours does, too, so here is my recommendation. Visit your dill every day and just when the seeds turn brown, cut the seedhead off and place it in a paper bag. It will probably hold together nicely at this stage, and you can put the whole thing in the pickle jar where it will look attractive. Strip the remaining leaves off the stem if they are still strongly aromatic, dry them and place them in a separate jar.

For those who do not have their own dill to harvest, the grocery stores usually have dry dill bundles for sale in late summer but only in a limited supply. Speaking from experience, make sure you have your dill in hand before start your pickles. One summer the stores were sold out everywhere, and I learned that you can actually place an order in advance with your store's produce manager; they are happy to please their customers.

Here's one more piece of advice. Invite others to make pickles with you. It is a big job and takes a long time to assemble ingredients, wash jars, stuff them with cucumbers, dill, and peeled garlic, and process in the canner. Make a lot and divide them up at the end so everyone can enjoy cold, crisp pickles through the year. The group will happily return next summer to begin a tradition, part of which will be to use your homegrown dill. Wouldn't that make your grandmother happy?


Merry Harrison, RH(AHG) is a clinical herbalist, teacher, author and wildcrafter.
For class schedule and to ask questions: www.millcreekherbs.com


Reprinted with permission: Catalyst Magazine


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