by Ed Halmagyi


Browsing in a pharmacy recently I came across what I thought was a practical joke. Gripe water.

On closer inspection the label seemed to confirm that it was indeed a panacea for gripe. ‘Brilliant’, I thought to myself, ‘I’ll grab some of this for the wife!’.

Unfortunately, it seems that the use I had in mind is not in fact the purpose of this particular potion. Apparently it cures baby colic, not adult gripes. Talk about false advertising. Now, before you decide that reflects poorly on my parenting capacities, keep in mind that I’d never had cause to use gripe water. I’d always found that laying a farty child tummy down on my legs tended to squeeze out a solution.

But what really piqued my interest was observing that the ingredients centred around dill oil. Putting my occasional prevarications about herbal remedies aside, I assumed that there must be some genuine science behind the prescription of dill for colicky infants in this modern age.

While much of the medical literature is anecdotal, there are a large number of doctors and infant nurses who write extensively about the use of dill leaf compounds, dill water and even dill seeds as effective balm for bothered bairns.

The pharmaeutical use of dill emerged in England in the 1850’s, and it did so on the back of centuries of tradition, particularly in Scandinavia. While the Romans thought dill to be a herb of male vigour (perhaps the Emperor Flaccidus?), the Vikings knew better. They named it ‘dilla’, meaning to soothe or lull. And dill pot pourris were commonly burned to encourage childrens’ fitful sleep.

It wasn’t long, however, until the Scandinavians discovered what we now take for granted – dill is the ultimate herb for seafood. By combining the local flora with salted salmon they created a new culinary tradition that has lasted millennia: gravalax. Of course, originally the salmon was first rotted for three months in underground (‘gravad’ meaning grave, ‘lax’ meaning salmon) but these days we can take a speedier and safer route using salt, sugar, mustard and dill to cure the fillets in just a couple of days.

Couple with some rye bread, or stirred into a light pasta salad, gravalax is the high point of slow-prepared seafood. Your only gripe will be when your plate run out.

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