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RESEARCH FUN WITH PLANTS

An interesting aspect of gardening is researching a plant. Start by learning all you can about the plant, how to grow it, where it originated, its uses, value in our culture and historically. Then grow it from seed.

Let's use dill as an example. Its botanical name is Anethum graveolens, a member of the Umbelliferae family. It is well known to the ancient peoples of southern Europan and western Asia and is a frequent ingredient in German and Scandianian cooking today. It has been used for medicine, honoring heroes and in decorating.

When used in cooking, remember that the greatest leaf flavor occurs just as the flowers are opening, and the seeds are much stronger flavored than the leaves. Many vegetables, meats and fish are enhanced by the flavor of dill. Newly dried seeds can be sprouted and included in salads, soups and breads. Dill seed is rich in mineral salts and is used in salt-free diets. Fresh leaves are used as a garnish. The most common use of dill is in pickles.

The name dill was derived from a northern European word meaning to lull or calm. It was used to calm infants with colic or hiccups, to settle an upset stomach, or to stave off hunger. Because American settlers gave children dill seed to chew during long sermons, they called it "meeting seed." In India it is one of the seeds offered to guests after dinner to aid in digestion.

Sow plenty of dill because the plant attracts the larvae of the black swallowtail butterfly. Watching them develop is very interesting. Although dill is an annual, it self-seeds very well.

Finally, inform your family of your findings. Prepare a meal using dill. Decorate your home with it. Try sipping tomato juice through a "dill straw." Make it a fun time. Hope you enjoy researching your plants as much as I have mine.

Ne Chichester, Smith County Master Gardener