Dill is simple to grow and beautiful to look at, and therefore deserves a place in your herb or vegetable garden. The early Greeks and Romans liked to grow dill, and they burned the seeds as incense and hung bunches of the herb in their homes to freshen stale air. In the Middle Ages, witches used dill in magical spells to stave off storms. Astrological herbalists of the seventeenth century claimed that dill was ruled by the planet Mercury, imparting strong intellectual powers to anyone who consumed it.
America's early colonists called dill "meetin' seed" because it was chewed for refresh-ment during long church meetings. But the name comes from a Norse word meaning "to lull", since a tea of dillseed was used to induce sleep.
Tea made from dillseed is recommended by modern herbalists to relax and settle cranky stomachs. In India this brew, which is a popular children's colic remedy, is bottled and called "gripe water." Russians call it plain old "dill water" and dole it out to relieve the discomfort of overeating. Both gripe water and dill water are available at health food stores, herb shops, and some pharmacies.
Dillseeds also contribute calcium to the diet. One tablespoon contains 100 milligrams of calcium. For comparison, that's more than the amount of calcium available in 1/3 cup of skim milk. Health professionals typically recommend calcium to help prevent endometrial cancer, colon cancer, loss of bone mass, muscle stress, and high blood pressure. The best way to make a high-calcium dill tea is to steep a tablespoon of dillseed in a cup of boiling water, covered, for four minutes. Drink the tea and then chew and swallow the seeds. The tea's taste is an aromatic combination of caraway and fennel and it can be used as a tasty and quick vegetarian stock for soups.
Yellow-green, ferny-looking dill is a native of the Mediterranean and southern Russia, but can make itself at home anywhere. Some varieties can grow to be two feet tall, which makes them a good backdrop to shorter herbs, such as parsley. Alternatively, you can pick up one of the "featherleaf" varieties which grow no more than a foot tall. As the name implies, their leaves are more feathery than those of their taller cousins.
Once you've decided which dill to grow, find a space in the garden that gets at least six hours a day of sun. Dill grows happily in the standard herb mixture of two parts garden soil or potting soil, two parts peat, one part sand, and one part composted cow manure or compost. Dig a hole for the dill that's twice the size of the herb's root ball, then set the herb in the hole. Fill in with the surrounding soil and tamp it down. Soak it with warm water and then, unless you have a drought, let nature do the watering. Dill spreads, so plant it about two feet away from other plants. If you don't want dill to take over your garden, cut it back before the flowers drop their seeds.
Dill is just as happy growing indoors as out, as long as it gets at least six hours a day of sun. You can augment the sunlight with 90-watt halogen floods, which can be left on up to twelve hours a day. About every five days stick your finger in the soil and, if it's dry, water the dill. The best dill for cooking is fresh, so if you like to cook with it make a point to grow it!