A hardy annual 2—3 x 1 ft (60—90 x 30 cm), rather like fennel to look at, with ferny, very finely divided leaves, and a stout stem; small dull yellow flowers come in large clusters between June and August. Origin, the Mediterranean countries; has been grown in Britain since the Roman occupation.
Mostly culinary, in the case of the leaves, for salads, fish and vegetables; the seeds have a bitter taste but supply gripe water and are otherwise useful for digestion. The seeds are also mildly sleep inducing.
The name comes from the old Norse word dilla, meaning to lull, because it was found to be effective in overcoming insomnia, and for soothing and calming generally. The ancient Egyptians used it, the Romans used it in Italy, and Culpeper in the 17th century remarked that ‘It stayeth the hiccough’.
Sow seeds outdoors in March-April in a moist but draining soil, in sun. Germination takes 14—21 days depending on the soil temperature. Rows should be about 1 ft (30 cm) apart; thin to 9 in. (22 cm). It does not like being transplanted. Sow also in July for an autumn supply. Keep well watered to prevent premature flowering. Self sown plants will be stronger than their parents.