The highly diverse carrot family offers many plants that are aromatic and useful as herbs or spices. When flowering they are described as umbelliferous, the stems (usually hollow) produce spoked floral stems that break into a smaller spoke which carry the tiny flowers. The term for this arrangement is compound umbels and a sure way to recognize family members. Coriander, Queen Anne’s Lace, parsley and parsnips all reside here, a few of the 3,000 species in the carrot family.
Not all are suitable for consumption, poison hemlock or Conium maculatum is highly poisonous, a biennial that is native to Europe and North Africa but has naturalized in the northeast, including Maryland and Virginia. Not only are all parts of the plant poisonous, but skin contact with its sap and direct sun will cause blisters, a phototoxic reaction that can leave the affected area looking like a burn. Cow parsnip or Heracleum maximum, a native perennial and hogweed or Heracleum mantegazzianum, a nonnative and not escaped, can also cause a phototoxic reaction. Mild to severe blisters occur, depending on the combination of sunlight on the skin and sap, which triggers the agitation. All gardeners should learn to recognize these dangerous plants and avoid handling them. These are the few carrot family members that are the exception to the rule for a largely beneficial family.
I have a patch of dill that seeded itself in an orderly fashion, almost square in its placement, that blockish patch contains hundreds of plants. The feathery leaves are beautiful, the green flowering umbels even more so. All manner of pollinators gather there, as I often say “small flower for small mouths”, everything from ladybugs to flies and wasps come for the nectar. Another common visitor is the black swallowtail larvae which grasps the small leaves or flowers and lifts them up to its mouth, preferring a slightly raised position to eat.
As the dill reached the point of flowering I was scrambling to find ways to utilize the herb, garnishing deviled eggs, making braised red cabbage with apple and dill, and potato salad.
It turns out that dill is beneficial in many ways, named from the Norse word dilla, which means “to lull”, it was given to colicky infants to soothe their stomach. Also an antiflatulent, one of its most powerful benefits, supposedly recommended as a dietary supplement for Russian cosmonauts living in close quarters.
I love the fact that it works in the pollinator garden or the herb garden, returns without coaxing, and may calm the tummy. A term often used to describe a good person might also be used here; dill is a good citizen.