Dill – Anethum graveolens

The plant originated in the Middle East, but has shown an impressive ability to grow at more northern latitudes. Dill is a fast grower, and some kinds can grow to be a metre high.

Dill is an annual herb that belongs to the Umbelliferae (parsley ) family, which has given people countless kinds of aromatic plants, such as cumin, aniseed, fennel, coriander and chervil. Over the summer, the light yellow-green and airy dill heads develop and produce the oil-rich seeds. But the leaves and stems are also aromatic, even though the ingredients here are different.

The Latin word Anethum has Greek roots and can be translated to “fast-growing”, while the species’ name graveolens, means strongly scented. A well-chosen, descriptive name. Graveolens is one of about four different types of dill, and the ordinary dill exists in countless forms, because of its long history of use and refinement by people.

Cultural history and use

Dill is named in the Old Testament and is known to have been cultivated since 400 BC and possibly 5,000 years ago in Egypt.

Dill moved to northern latitudes in ancient times, and is a traditional ingredient in Nordic cooking, where its taste works well with our fine fresh foods like crab, herring and salmon. It is very likely that when the Vikings travelled from the Russian rivers all the way to Constantinople – now known as Istanbul, they brought back with them a handful of dill seeds and so started the plant’s glorious career in Scandinavia.

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Health and gastronomy

Both the leaf and the seeds are used in cooking, even though the taste sensations are different, which is why we name them dill leaf and dill head. The fine leaves of the plant are plucked several times during the season, the leaves are chilled and used as fresh as possible, to ensure none of the aroma or flavour is lost.

The dill leaf is therefore associated with cold cooking, but can withstand moderate heating for a short period, in soups for example. The leaves can be freeze-dried, and even in winter, your salmon or cod can be seasoned with dill. However, the dill is fragile and a lot of its flavour can be lost when preserving it. Typically, the dill leaves are used to add flavour to fish and shellfish courses, but it also has many other uses, in sauces, egg, poultry, veal, etc.

Dill heads are plucked just as the seeds mature and compared to the leaves, they have a more intense flavour. The dill heads and seeds require that you bring the flavours out, so dill heads are better suited to warm cooking, and is traditionally used for dill-pickled vegetables – especially with gherkins and cucumbers. The mature seeds can be ground and used as spice for meat, bread, cheese and sauces.

Dill is widely used as a herbal medicine and is even said to have magical properties. According to well-known doctors Henrik Harpestreng, Simon Paulli and Nicholas Culpeper, writing in the earliest herbal books, dill was used as a powerful medicine to treat malaria, headache, infected sores, sleeplessness, colic, hicks and flatulence. The Romans also believed that dill provided strength, so gladiators’ food was often covered with dill.

Dill contains a lot of antiseptic compounds, which have been shown to fight bacteria. Serious attempts have been made to develop dill extract as a natural antibiotic. It may help in situations where bacteria is becoming resistant to known available antibiotics.

Dill is popular in magic and folklore, almost certainly stemming from the plant’s popularity as a plant in monks’ herb gardens. A sprig of dill above the door kept evil spirits at bay, while dill in the barn on Walpurgis Night or the night before Midsummer’s Day, meant no one could put a hex on your milk or butter. The burning of dill seeds was supposed to prevent thunderstorms.

Cultivation

Dill thrives on most soils, but grows especially well in soil that is rich in mould and well-fertilised. It is important that the plant is sowed in sheltered ground sheltered from the wind, in a warm and bright place. From April onwards, the seeds are sowed at a depth of 1-2 cm, in intervals of 40-50 cm and subsequently thinned, so that the plants have about 10-15 cm spacing.

During dry periods there is a moderate need for watering. The plants have a moderate need for fertiliser, but it is important that they have a proper supply of phosphorus. Normally dill can be harvested several times, and can be re-sowed up until the beginning of August, and thus the dill season can be extended. The plants typically bloom two months after sprouting and 2-3 dill heads can be harvested per plant.

Dill & Den Ny Spritfabrik

Den Ny Spritfabrik produces high-quality aquavit by bringing nature into the laboratory, where we let the distillation apparatus bring out the best in the plants.

This key philosophy bore fruit when D Argentum was created. At first, the idea was to make a ‘real’ dill aquavit – an aquavit that has the authentic taste and aromas of dill and nothing but dill. But how do you capture the aroma of dill in a bottle of aquavit with 40% alcohol?

Research

We applied science and planted different kinds of dill in different locations in Denmark. Since then, samples have been taken, which have been made into macerate, distilled and analysed using a gas chromatograph, which has shown how much and what type of aromatics were present.

Through dedicated and systematic work, it became clear that the flavour lay in the dill heads. We also discovered that the timing of the harvesting had a crucial impact on the characteristics of the optimal natural dill aroma, since the quality of the sensation of dill diminishes once the seeds fully mature.

Of all of the different kinds of dill, the fast-growing Mammoth Dill excelled.

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