Dill appears to occur in the Bible three times. However, there is a question about precisely which plant it denotes. Jensen (see discussion below) argues that the most plausible reading is that the Hebrew, קֶ֫צַח (qetsach), and the Greek, ἄνηθον (anēthon), refer to two different plants. The plant we will be using for this project is the one usually identified as being referred to in the New Testament; Anethum graveolens commonly known to us also as dill.
Dill is a very useful aromatic herb (tasting a little of aniseed) which is predominantly used for flavouring in stews and soups. UK readers will probably associate it more commonly with dishes like fish pie. However, it can also be used to host animals in the garden, such as caterpillars, to eradicate garden pests such as moths and slugs.
How to grow
Dill is quite sensitive and should always be planted during spring time, after the likelihood of frost has considerably lessened. Once germinated, it also does not like having its roots moved. Therefore, either plant directly in the ground or plant in a container large and enough to accommodate the number of plants sown – it makes an excellent container plant (although make sure it is deep enough for its long taproot).
- Sow seeds in shallow 1/2 inch (1cm) deep rows and lightly cover with soil.
- After 10-14 days, young dill should begin to emerge. Although, Swenson (1995) warns that they can be slow growing at first!
- When seedlings appear, thin them so that they are roughly 6 inches (15cm) apart. They can be a little closer in pots.
- Keep soil moist, but avoid over watering.
- Cutting young leaves will help to encourage growth and delay flowering.
If you intend to keep your plants on a longer term basis and use their seeds for future planting, it is advisable not to plant your dill near fennel to avoid inter-breeding.
Dill in the Bible
We have already come across the passage in Isaiah 28 in reference to cumin.
25 When they have levelled its surface,Isaiah 28:25-27 (NRSV)
do they not scatter dill, sow cummin,
and plant wheat in rows
and barley in its proper place,
and spelt as the border?
27 Dill is not threshed with a threshing-sledge,
nor is a cartwheel rolled over cummin;
but dill is beaten out with a stick,
and cummin with a rod.
Like cumin, this passage describes how the seeds of dill are harvested by beating the plant with a staff, therefore allowing the dill to fall away as opposed to being extracted by a mechanism which is referred to as a ‘threshing-sledge.’
Jensen (2012) notes that the plant translated here as dill, in the Hebrew קֶ֫צַח (qetsach)
… is most likely identical with black cummin (Nigella sativa). Zohary (1982) stated that the identification of the Hebrew word ketzah with black kummin is both supported linguistically and by the widespread use of the seeds on breads and cakes and for flavouring dishes in post-biblical time.Jensen 2012 loc cit. 1047
Musselman (2007) describes seeing Arab farmers threshing the pungent seeds of black cumin by beating the dried plants with sticks in the manner described in Isaiah 28.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practised without neglecting the others.Matthew 23:23 (NRSV)
Some commentators interpret this passage as an attempt to ridicule the lengths to which Jesus’ opponents went in their scrupulous religious practices. Whilst their are some grounds for this reading, it does overlook the importance of herbs and spices in the life and economy of the ancient world. Musselman (2007) sheds some light on the value of herbs such as dill, and concludes that:
It is probably difficult for those of us living in the twenty-first century… to understand how valuable these condiments were in the ancient world for their power to add flavour and variety to foods – and that they would be so valuable, they were used for tithing.Musselman (2007:120)
Although the Authorised Version renders it as ‘anise’, there is little doubt that the dill referred to here as ἄνηθον (anēthon) is the plant we know today as dill belonging to the genus anethum. The use of dill appears to have been very widespread with twigs of this herb having been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, such as that of the 18th Dynasty Amonhotep II (1427–1401 or 1397 BCE).
Dill was also harvested for its medicinal properties. The plant is mentioned in the Egyptian medical papyrus, Papyrus Ebers (1534 BCE), as offering a cure of headache. Jensen (2012) notes that
Dioscorides recommended a decoction of the seeds for curing stomach-ache, counteracting colic and as a diuretic. Continued use of the fruit should have a negative effect on vision. Dill is included in the works by Virgil and Celsius; and it is assumed that it was the Romans who brought the plant to Central and Northern Europe.Jensen (2012: loc cit.1072)
Jensen, H.A. (2012) Plant World of the Bible. [Kindle] Bloomington: Author House.
Musselman, L. (2007). Figs, Dates, Laurel, and Myrrh: Plants of the Bible and the Quran. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press.
Swenson, A. A. (1995) Plants of the Bible: And how to grow them. New York: Citadel Press.