German and Belgian brides used to attach dill to their wedding gowns or carry it in their bouquets to bring happiness to the marriage. There may have been an ulterior motive, however. If she brought mustard and dill seeds to her wedding and said these words, “I have you, mustard and dill, Husband, when I speak, you stay still!” the wife would be in charge of the marriage.
Believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region about 5,000 years ago, dill symbolizes good cheer and luck. Its name means “to calm” or “to soothe.” In the Middle Ages, hanging dill by your door prevented anyone entering who meant you harm. Sprigs were also hung on cradles to protect sleeping children.
Nicholas Culpeper was a 17th century physician, medical astrologist and herbalist. In his “Complete Herbal,” he told us “it strengthens the brain … it stays the hiccough, being boiled in wine, and but smelled unto being tied in a cloth.”
Known as the “meetinghouse seed,” it was chewed during long church services to keep babies quiet and adults awake.
Dill is a twofer: Both the leaves (herb) and the seeds (spice) are used in cooking, having slightly different flavors. I love the uplifting smell of dill and use it fresh in salads and dressings. It is frequently used in fish dishes in Sweden.
In the garden, let some of your dill flower, as it adds height to the back of a sunny border, reseeds readily and butterflies adore it. They lay their eggs there, and the larva feed on it. I plant some for myself and some for the black swallowtails.
Today’s science is confirming the medicinal properties of dill. Indian scientists have found that dill’s limoneno works as well as prescription antibiotics at killing harmful intestinal bacteria such as E. coli; therefore, it has beneficial healing properties for the digestive system.
You’ve probably heard your grandmothers talk about giving dill water (or “gripe water”) to babies. The Roman emperor Charlemagne, not being fond of gaseous emissions from dinner guests, provided each of them with a small bottle of dill oil at his bacchanalia.
This herb was believed to provide protection from witches:
“Therewith her Vervain and her Dill
That hindereth witches of their will.”
Drinking a cup of dill water would reverse a witch’s spell.
Enjoy growing some dill this summer. The swallowtails will come, and the witches will leave.
– A reference librarian, Lisa Karen Miller has been gardening and researching plant lore for many years. Have some plant lore to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.