Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.


Interview with an Herb

Herb of the Year 2010: Dill, Weed and Seed

by Sandra Bowens

The following is a transcript of a recent interview conducted by our webmaster with a special herb. The webmaster's questions are in bold type, dill's responses follow.


We are visiting today with Dill who is enjoying celebrity status since becoming the Herb of the Year for 2010. It's nice to see you and we are glad to have this opportunity to chat.


Thank you. First, I would like to thank the International Herb Association and the American Herb Society for choosing me to be the fifteenth recipient of this distinctive honor.


Why do you think they chose you?


To be considered an herb must meet two of the three criteria: be a culinary herb, have medicinal properties or be useful to crafters. I am an excellent ingredient in the kitchen in both my forms, the frilly dill weed and in my final stages as dill seed. My flowers are a wonderful, showy addition to cut flower arrangements. I must admit to being rather light in the medicinal arena but some folks say I help quiet a noisy stomach or a noisy baby.


What do you say to those who think of you for nothing more than pickles?


I say try me on fish sometimes, or with an egg. As a fresh herb I'm really great at enhancing vegetables, especially lima beans, peas and corn. I just love it when I end up as dill weed freshly snipped into tuna salad or a smoked salmon spread. When I am in seed form I can make cabbage really shine and taste great in a variety of savory baked goods.


Would you like to talk about this special relationship you seem to have with cucumbers?


It has hardly been a secret. We have been together for years, we are practically married. I mean consider the name "dill pickle," that pretty much says it all about what we have going. In the beginning we were forced together. People liked to plant us at the same time, side by side, so that we would be ready at the same time. Cucumber has always been the star, so much bigger and more imposing. That's why I like it when people use my whole head rather than just breaking it up into seeds when making pickles. I think I deserve a little recognition, too.


Are there certain places where you are more comfortable than others?


I seem to fit in just about everywhere but I will confess to a certain affinity for German and Scandinavian kitchens. It's also nice to be in Russian food, they seem to enjoy me a great deal, but that makes sense since I come from there.


You have a reputation for being rather finicky about where you live. Is this true?


I am a sun lover, that's for sure. And I do not like to move. None of this plant me in a little container and then drag me around a bit before finally giving me a place in the ground. I have long roots and if they are disturbed, I'm just not going to do well. I say, just plant a seed where you want me to grow and I will do it. Don't cover that seed up with dirt, however, I'm so crazy about the sun, I need light to germinate.


You say all that will make you happy but you still have a tendency to "bolt." What's up with that?


It's true. Sometimes I can get too much of a good thing and those long days of summer sunshine make me lazy. I get tired of putting out all that lacy foliage and just go on to making seeds. People are getting wise to my antics, however, so if they look for my seeds called Dukat, or even the new Elephant variety, they might quit complaining about the bolting.


That other trick called "successive planting," where gardeners sow my seeds at intervals every couple of weeks, keeps me on hand for foliage production as well.


You come from a big family. Would you like to talk about them?


Oh yes, my cousins the umbellifers. We always say parsley is the most popular but coriander is certainly catching on since cilantro started getting around so much. Anise and caraway have always been a little jealous, but we tell them they are an acquired taste. Fennel has been getting a big head since the fennel pollen craze but cumin knows how that goes. Chervil has always been such a homebody, we all say it should get out more.


I'd rather not talk about my wild cousins. That Queen Anne's lace just shows up uninvited all over the place. Poison hemlock likes to masquerade as those of us who are edible and pleasant to be around. It's a toxic relationship.


What about you? Pretending to be a cut-flower when everyone knows you are an herb. Come on!


No, no, it's true! My Vierling variety has strong stems and beautiful flowers that are so eye-catching in bouquets, plus they smell nice. You have to admit that I make a lovely garden plant.


I will admit that. Is there anything else you would like to say?


There is one other point I'd like to make. I would like to remind gardeners that I am often accompanied by my friend the swallowtail butterfly. Unfortunately, he isn't always welcome in that early, creepy caterpillar form so people have a tendency to try to save me by killing him. May I suggest a few extra plants be grown so that he has a chance to survive? My cousins feel the same way.


Thank you, Dill. We look forward to seeing you in gardens and kitchens around the world this year.

Straight from the experts with a bonus chapter of stunning photos and information about the National Herb Garden in Washington, D.C.

Rosalind Creasy knows all about using food plants to round out your yard. She pioneered the idea 25 years ago. This updated edition includes 300 inspiring photographs.

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