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Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a short-lived annual herb, native to southwest and central Asia. It is the sole species of the genus Anethum, though classified by some botanists in the related genus Peucedanum as Peucedanum graveolens (L.) C.B.Clarke.
It grows to 40-60 cm tall, with slender stems and alternate, finely divided, softly delicate leaves 10-20 cm long. The ultimate leaf divisions are 1-2 mm broad, slightly broader than the similar leaves of fennel, which are threadlike, less than 1 mm broad, but harder in texture. The flowers are white to yellow, in small umbels 2-9 cm diameter. The seeds are 4-5 mm long and 1 mm thick, and straight to slightly curved with a longitudinally ridged surface.
Origins and history
Dill originated in central Asia. Zohary and Hopf remark that "wild and weedy types of dill are widespread in the Mediterranean basin and in West Asia."
Although several twigs of dill were found in the tomb of Amenhotep II, they report that the earliest archeological evidence for its cultivation comes from late Neolithic lake shore settlements in Switzerland. Traces have been found in Roman ruins in Great Britain.
In Semitic languages it is known by the name of Shubit. The Talmud requires that tithes shall be paid on the seeds, leaves, and stem of dill. The Bible states that the Pharisees were in the habit of paying dill as tithe (Matthew 23:23) ; Jesus Christ is said to have rebuked them for tithing dill but omitting mercy.
The name dill is thought to have originated from a Norse or Anglo-Saxon word 'dylle' meaning to soothe or lull, the plant having the carminative property of relieving gas.
In some English speaking countries, it is sometimes called Dillby. In some Asian local languages it is called as "Shepu" or "Sowa".
Fresh and dried dill leaves (sometimes called "dill weed" to distinguish it from dill seed) are used as herbs.
Like caraway, its fernlike leaves are aromatic, and are used to flavor many foods, such as gravlax (cured salmon), borscht and other soups, and pickles. Dill is said to be best when used fresh, as it lose its flavor rapidly if dried; however, freeze-dried dill leaves preserve their flavor relatively well for a few months.
Dill seed is used as a spice, with a flavor similar to caraway.
Dill oil can be extracted from the leaves, stems and seeds of the plant.
Medicinal value - Dill is an herb effective for the treatment of colic, gas, and indigestion.
Successful cultivation requires warm to hot summers with high sunshine levels; even partial shade will reduce the yield substantially. It also prefers rich, well drained soil. The seeds are viable for 3-10 years. Plants intended for seed for further planting should not be grown near fennel, as the two species can hybridise.
The seed is harvested by cutting the flower heads off the stalks when the seed is beginning to ripen. The seed heads are placed upside down in a paper bag and left in a warm dry place for a week. The seeds then separate from the stems easily for storage in an airtight container.
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- Daniel Zohary and Maria Hopf, Domestication of plants in the Old World, third edition (Oxford: University Press, 2000), p.206
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