Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dill is the 2010 Herb of the Year

I had the good fortune to travel, this past Friday, to River Farm in Alexandria, Virginia with my friends Kim and Arlene(that's them in the picture at left and a picture of the main house of River Farm) for the monthly meeting of the Potomac Unit of the Herb Society of America (HSA). I am not a member of the Potomac Unit like Kim and Arlene but I am a Member-At-Large of the HSA and, every so often I attend the Potomac Unit's meetings and see what's going on in this very active and vibrant group that is connected to HSA units all across the country as well as internationally through the International Herb Association (IHA).

River Farm, located on the Potomac River, was originally owned by George Washington and is close to his main estate, Mount Vernon, just a few miles further south and also located along the banks of the Potomac River. River Farm is now owned and operated by the American Horticulture Society (AHS) and is used for public and private educational programs of all sorts, especially horticultural ones. The entire grounds consist of teaching and display gardens and panoramic views of the Potomac River. This picture, at left, of a knot garden using boxwood and bay standards is very similar to the knot garden Peter planted in our yard last spring. The next picture is of a novel use for a pile of dirt and some extra sod you may have laying around your yard--turn it into a sod sofa--a new perspective in "going green" with garden furniture. Had it not been such a dreary, cold and wet day, I would have tried it out.

This particular meeting of the Potomac HSA was about the 2010 Herb of the Year, Dill and featured celebrated international writer and cookbook author, Susan Belsinger, also a Potomac Unit member. Susan took time from her extremely busy schedule to talk to the group about "Edible Herbal Umbels" of which, one of the most popular umbels out there in the herbal world, coincidentally, is Dill (Anethum Graveolens). It is a member of the Umbellifrea family of plants that include those with flower or seed heads that resemble in some way, shape and form, umbrellas. Sorry that this picture of Susan (green apron) is a bit blurry, but she moves fast when she is speaking.

The Herb Society of America's mission is dedicated to promoting the "knowledge, use and delight of herbs." Now you may say that this statement seems oversimplified but I would tell you that you could not go to many other nonprofit national and international organizations that are made up of people from all walks of life and many are experts in their fields of horticulture, science and technology, medicine and landscape design and architecture, and ranging from housewives to writers, business owners, plant growers, teachers, doctors and scientists. It is a multi-faceted and fascinating organization of people and it aims to educate its members as well as the general public on the cultivation of herbs. For example, the HSA has published on their website a 28 page document dedicated solely to Dill. Everything you may have thought you ever needed or wanted to know about this herb and it's many uses can be found there.

For starters, Dill has been cultivated since around 400B.C. and is mentioned in the bible and, historically, Dill's uses have ranged from flavoring in cooking to medicine and even witchcraft, yet this herb has never been considered one of the more "glitzy" ones out there like rosemary or thyme. However, Susan Belsinger showed the Potomac Unit and it's visitors a thing or two as to why Dill has it's staying power by demonstrating a few of her "Herbal Umbel Recipes"-- such as a Bloody Umbel (Bloody Mary's with Dill-infused vodka), Greek-inspired Dill Feta Cheese Spread and a lovely, spicy pastry called a Lemon, Dill and Pistachio Sharing Cookie (something like one of those giant chocolate chip cookies you can buy at a Mrs. Field's cookie shop only way better!)

I had a wonderful time at this meeting as I always do because I manage to pick the most fun and interesting ones to attend--one of the advantages to being a Member-At-Large. At the end of the meeting, Susan raffled off a few packages of her favorite types of Dill (Dukat Leafy) and I was one of the lucky winners! I probably should have bought a lottery ticket on the way home that day as I never win anything and it did turn out to be my lucky day--spending it with good friends, eating good food and attending a most intriguing meeting about Dill.

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