Traditional in cuisines around the world, dill enhances a variety of dishes, from Norwegian gravlax and Mediterranean tzatziki to a good old American burger. And it turns out flavor may not be the strongest suit — dill is an antioxidant powerhouse.

The folklore

The dill pickle may be its claim to fame, but dill weed’s historical, culinary and medicinal roles may steal the spotlight for this sprite-sized herb. This native to the Mediterranean region made its first mark as a medicinal herb about 5,000 years ago. Ancient Greeks covered soldiers’ wounds with dill seeds to heal them, and gladiators ate food covered with dill, thinking it would make them brave.

The facts

Dill weed (Anethum graveolens) is part of the Umbelliferae family, along with parsley, fennel, cumin and bay leaf. Both the leaves and the seeds are used as seasonings. The feather-like green leaves are thin and wispy, aromatic and sweet tasting. Its dried seeds are light brown ovals with a pungent, bitter flavor, similar to caraway seed. Slight in calories — a 1/4-cup serving has just one — dill weed contributes vitamins A and C to the diet. Perhaps its most powerful punch, however, comes from monoterpenes and flavonoids, two health-protective components.

The findings

The plant compounds, such as flavonoids, in dill weed have been shown to have antidiabetic effects in animals and humans, according to a review in the Journal of Tropical Medicine (2016). Dill also contains monoterpenes, which help support antioxidant activity, protecting the body against damaging free radicals (Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy, 2004). Preliminary science suggests dill may help fight heart disease and depression, though more research is needed to confirm these results.

The finer points

Fresh dill weed should have bright green (no yellowing) sprigs with firm stems. Quick to wilt, store it immediately in the refrigerator in a plastic bag where it will keep about a week. Dried dill weed and seeds will keep about six months in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place. Whisked into a vinegar- or cream-based dressing, dill brings out the best in a variety of vegetables, especially cucumbers, radishes and potatoes. It also pairs perfectly with fish, like steamed or grilled salmon, egg salad, and a cool, yogurt-based Mediterranean dip like tzatziki.

(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384.

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