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Dill - Botany And History

Dill is a delicate and popular culinary and medicinal perennial herb which may oftentimes assume the characteristics of an annual depending upon the climes. Dill is the only known species of the Anethum species, although it's distinct flavour profile does share some similarities with a number of other plants, more particularly aniseed or coriander. Dill has been a popular and much-used culinary and medicinal herb since the time of the Ancient Greeks, although its employment in medicine in Asia is far more ancient, albeit its culinary use in Asia being of lesser import than its more prolific usage in European territories.

Typically characterised by its slender stems and often very delicate leaves that resemble fennel leaves or rosemary leaves, it is most notable for its threadlike and well-spread characteristics, measuring between three to eight inches long). The whole of the plant typically grows to a maximum of twenty-four inches upon maturity, although some mature specimens may anywhere from fifteen to twenty inches in length. Dill is also notable for its white, ivory, or yellow-hued inflorescence which typically occurs in small yellow umbels that measure no more than two to nine centimetres at the most. Dill seeds - themselves a coveted spice since olden days - are small objects characterised by its ridged surface and slightly oblong shape. [1] These seeds measure no more than four to five millimeters in total, and are typically crushed or otherwise bruised prior to usage.

Dill is commonly presumed to be a native of the Mediterranean, although it also grows prolifically in areas such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France. It's spread, or perhaps its presence in Asia may be attributed either to its presence in Southern Russia which may have influenced its later presence in China and Japan. However, other theories suggest that dill may have already been a commonplace plant in China, and it was later trade and relations between China, Japan, and Korea, as well as trade between China and Russia, which helped to spread its usage. Dill can also be found thriving in Northern and Eastern Europe, where its sheer numbers have allotted it the status of a local (albeit extremely useful) weed. Dill is also commonly grown as a garden variety plant, although it's most common reasons for cultivation is to supply the large demand for culinary dill seeds and leaves. As with many relatively ancient culinary and medicinal herbs, dill's every constituent part - from its leaves to its flowers - may be employed and is edible, although nowadays, the preference seems to veer towards the sole use of dill seeds and leaves (called dill weed or dillweed), with some culinary practices having a stronger preference for the former more so than the latter.

Dill prefers moist environments with nutrient-rich soil, as the presence of dill in an environment can often be taxing to the soil's inherent fertility, thus requiring regular fertilisation and watering to help improve yields. Dill is best planted in small plots for better management, typically in an area which obtains ample sunlight but does necessarily experience long periods of direct heat.

Dill - Herbal Uses

Long cultivated in the Mediterranean region with a history of usage that dates back to the time of the Ancient Greeks, dill is a well loved albeit only moderately employed herb and spice (as both its leaves and seeds are employed). Its most common usage veers towards the culinary, with usage typically relegated to Mediterranean cuisine, although culinary styles in other parts of the world, notably Portuguese, Spanish, and Germanic cookery also incorporate dill (albeit in fewer instances). Because of its distinctly sweet taste, dill is often employed in French cuisine as a means to flavor various types of desserts such as cakes and pastries, while Mediterranean cooking employs dill as an accompanying herb for fish-based, or vegetable based dishes. When mature, dill leaves take on a semi-spicy or more robust flavour as compared to the subtle sweetness found in younger samples, making older leaves an excellent accompaniment to vegetable-based dishes and preserves that require a little nuanced 'kick'. Both young and mature dill leaves also work well when incorporated into dishes that feature chicken, duck, or some other type of fowl as its primary ingredient, while some types of game may benefit from the added nuances brought about by the herb. Young dill weed may also be employed in the creation of delicious dessert-type drinks, and are in fact a very common feature in Arabian and Indian dessert drinks such as yoghurt, kefir, and practically anything which contains milk (of any kind). Dill leaves may also be used to create complimentary sauces or spreads and actually work well when combined with egg-based dishes and even mayonnaise. In some culinary practices, dill weed is even integrated into salads - a practice which is quite popular for some Mediterranean and French styles of cuisine. [2]

The seeds of the plant, most commonly employed in its dry state (although fresh seeds may also be used) have also been employed for culinary purposes. Usually employed on its own, the seeds are typically bruised prior to usage. Dill seeds make for an excellent spice for soups, stews, chowders, and even casseroles, and they work well with seafood, poultry, or game (and rarely, even heartier fares like beef or pork). Due to their more robust flavour, seeds are employed only sparingly, although it may be used alongside the leaves themselves for fish-based dishes and even stock. In some parts of Asia, dill seeds are even incorporated into curries or otherwise employed as an integral ingredient in dishes which call for the use of coconut milk - a practice which is very popular in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. [3]

Dill has also been employed medicinally since ancient times, typically using both its leaves and seeds interchangeably, although more often than not they are used separately or otherwise integrated in some recipes which call for more potent medicinal action. The earliest medicinal employment of dill dates back to the time of the Ancient Greeks and the Ancient Egyptians, who often chewed on dill leaves or fresh dill seeds prior to, and after meals to whet the appetite and aid in later digestion and eventual nutrient assimilation. The practice of the raw consumption of dill leaves, dill seeds (or a combination of both) was also very commonplace throughout nearly all cultures of the time, being present in Indian, Arabian, Early Chinese, and Early European cultures. Chewing dill weed or fresh dill seed was employed by many ancient cultures to treat halitosis, and to help relieve the symptoms of sore throats and general inflammation of the mouth area due to cold sores or some other virulent infection, suggesting an antimicrobial property. [4] The practice soon evolved into the primarily water-based means of ingestion which would later dominate the whole of the naturopathic systems.

When brewed, a mild infusion of dried dill weed or a moderately strong decoction of dill seeds and leaves has long been employed by various cultures as an after-meal digestif. [5] A tisane prepared from dill leaves or a combination of dill seeds and leaves may also be drunk to increase one's appetite - a very common reason why dill is often incorporated into various foodstuffs. Strong decoctions of the plant's leaves have long been believed by herbalists to help in the management and eventual healing of bodily complaints associated with the liver, kidney, and gallbladder. [6] Potent brews of mature dill leaves (with or without the accompaniment of the seeds) may be drunk daily in moderate dosages to help treat the discomforts associated with any disease which affects the liver, kidneys, bladder, or the urinary tract, and may even be prescribed as a natural maintenance remedy for the management of such diseases. [7]

A decoction of dill seeds by itself may be drunk as a remedy for colds, cough, flu, and anxiety. It is a known nervine, and, when drunk prior to sleep may help to relieve the symptoms of insomnia and restlessness associated with anxiety, fear, or stress and thus encourage a restful sleep. Its antipyretic properties have long been employed in rural areas as a quick remedy for fevers at the very onset of the disease. [8] When combined with herbs such as basil, a moderate decoction of dill seeds (alongside its other constituent parts) may even be used to help treat bronchitis, asthma, and spasms. [9] Very mild decoctions of dried dill seeds have been employed as a remedy for colic in infants and was originally a major ingredient for gripe water, until it was later replaced by young dill leaves which tended to be milder and, in effect, more apt for infantile consumption. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, dill is typically employed as a general tonifying drink, as it is believed to possess potent invigorative properties. Traditional Chinese Medicine (and some braches of Western herbalism) also value dill as a powerful diuretic, often used in combination with detoxifying herbs or spices, or otherwise employed solely for the treatment of high blood pressure, bloating, and water retention. In Mediaeval Europe, very potent decoctions of dill seed were even drunk as a remedy for jaundice, as a galactagogue, and as an emmenagogue to help regulate or induce menstruation in women, and was even combined with herbs such as black cohosh (Actea racemosa) as a primitive type of abortifacient, typically drunk in very large doses often with highly detrimental side-effects. [10]

Aside from its noted tonifying, antipyretic, and expectorant properties, infusions of dill also possess very powerful antimicrobial, antifungal and antiseptic properties. Potent decoctions of the whole plant were often applied topically as a wash to help alleviate the symptoms of eczema and psoriasis, or to otherwise treat a wide array of fungal infections. Such decoctions were even used as antiseptic mouthwashes, or as a means to medicate bandages used to cover wounds as the practice were not only believed to prevent infection, but to hasten healing as well. [11] It was often combined with other antiseptic herbs such as basil or rosemary for added benefits and more efficient results.

The potency of the herb is due chiefly to its powerful essential oil - a substance which also has a long (albeit relatively 'modern') history of usage. The essential oil of dill is extracted through steam distillation and is today incorporated in any number of organic (and some partly-organic) cosmetics, or otherwise diluted in a base oil for beautifying or antiseptic purposes. It is also employed in cookery as an additive to sundry foodstuffs to help improve its aroma and flavour. Dill oil is also often integrated into high-end perfumes due to the sweet notes which it possesses, although its employment has somewhat dwindled over the last few decades, with only a small number of artisanal perfumeries continuing to employ its use. [12]

Dill - Esoteric Uses

Dill has a long history of magickal usage. Typically associated with protection, calming, soothing, and pacification, it has been employed magickally since the time of the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians. Initially burnt as a smudge or otherwise dried and thrown into hot coals as a type of incense, both the leaves and the seeds have been employed as offertory incense for the appeasement of spirits. Later on, it was chiefly employed as a pacifying smudge to soothe disgruntled or enraged spirits. Its calming properties (from which the Old English dilla is said to have come, which literally means 'to lull') were later improved upon, and it later became an herb of protection, said to ward a household or a person from sickness and illness. [13] In Mediaeval Europe, sorcerers and witches brewed potions made from dill to soothe anger, promote mutual love, and help settle discords. Dill is also believed to be a clarifying herb and is said to help shatter or break illusions, making it an excellent de-hexing herb when employed as a cleansing bath or as a purifying smudge. Recent innovations have also allowed for the use of dill oil, itself a powerful anointing and purifying oil, to bless or empower magickal tools that are meant for de-hexing, healing, and penetrating glamour spells and illusions. [14] It also makes for an excellent blessing oil (a 'Chrism' oil in the Christian context) due to its ability to banish evil and bring good fortune.

While its usage in magick dates from a very ancient time, it is also believed to be a potent protective herb against magicians and all other spellworkers themselves. European folkloric belief states that hanging sprigs of dill above a doorway or above the rafters of a house deter witches and other malevolent entities from entering. It was also believed that planting dill around one's property (preferably as a hedge, along with other protective herbs like rosemary) is said to prevent misfortune, discord, and sickness from pervading the hearth and home. While this may seem like a counter-productive misnomer, this early belief may have been leveled at malevolent spellworkers, as healers or benevolent practitioners of the Kraft freely and regularly employ dill for spellwork. [15]

Its associations with soothing and pacifying may have also contributed to the inappropriate slang usage of the term 'dillweed' to mean an idiotic or dense person. Its employment as a primary ingredient in vegetable-based preserves such as pickles may have also resulted in its eventual adoption as a term for the male genitalia (in this instance, the whole of the male appendage, including the pubic hairs), although such connotations are relatively modern (circa late 1990s), caused in part by toilet humour, with no bearing whatsoever to its original historical employment or import. [16]

Dill - Contraindications And Safety

While the whole of the dill plant is safe for general moderate consumption, it should be avoided by pregnant women as its emmenagogue properties can be abortifacient especially if consumed in excess or in otherwise very potent forms. It is considered relatively safe for nursing women, and was at one time even drunk to help encourage lactation. Individuals who are allergic to carrots (and subsequently, all plants belonging to the genus Daucus and Foeniculum) should also avoid the consumption of dill as it may trigger reactions which range from milk skin irritation to even graver conditions. When employing dill oil, or otherwise applying very potent decoctions of dill properly a skin patch-test should be done prior to usage lest one risk the possibility of an allergic reaction. Dill oil must never be applied topically in its undiluted form; likewise, decoctions or 'juice' extracts of the plant should never be applied topically with impunity. Allergic reactions to dill include mild rashes, photosensitivity, and even (in very rare cases) flare-ups which result in a change of pigmentation or blistering. Prolonged consumption of medicinal remedies or the prolonged usage of products containing dill may also cause photosensitivity, so general precautions (moderated dosages, or the use of sun-block / conservative clothing) are necessary when supplementing or employing dill for prolonged periods of time.

Individuals who are taking synthetic or natural diuretic drugs should avoid consuming dill in large quantities lest it results in dehydration. Also, individuals who are under antidepressant medication chiefly based on lithium should steer clear of dill, as its diuretic properties make for the slower dispersal of lithium from the system, eliciting the need for a different prescription or a different dosage. As with all natural herbs, one should consult a healthcare provider and a licensed herbalist prior to considering longterm usage.

Dill - Other Names, Past and Present

Chinese: shi luo
Japanese: diru (transliteration of the English "dill")
Korean: dil (transliteration of the English "dill")
Sanskrit: satapushpi
Hindi: dila / shepu
French: aneth / aneth odorant / faux anis / fenouil batar
Spanish: endeldo
Italian: aneto
Ancient Greek: anethon (attributed)
Old English: dile
Anglo-Saxon: dylle
English: dill / dill weed / dilly / dillweed / Lao coriander
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Anethum graveolens



[4] http://www.naturalstandard.com/news/news201106014.asp

[5] http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/d/dill--13.html

[6] http://voices.yahoo.com/the-medicinal-uses-dill-10556731.html

[7] http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/dill-weed.html

[8] http://www.sharecare.com/question/how-is-dill-used-in-herbal-medicine

[9] http://theherbgardener.blogspot.com/2008/04/facts-about-dill.html

[10] http://health-from-nature.net/Dill.html

[11] http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-463-DILL.aspx?activeIngredientId=463&activeIngredientName=DILL

[12] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dill_oil

[13] http://www.angelfire.com/empire/serpentis666/Herbs.html

[14] http://www.magialuna.net/d.html

[15] http://windspirit57.tripod.com/id4.html

[16] http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=dillweed

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, Scientific Studies report by Dan Ablir.
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