If you do not grow dill in your garden and landscape because you do not make pickles, think again. Move aside cucumbers—dill can be used in breads and stews, and to enhance the flavor of fish and potatoes. Once you get started, you might not stop using this versatile herb.
Use of dill, or Anethum graveolens, dates back to Biblical times. The origin of the name comes from the Norse word “dilla” meaning to soothe or to lull, referring to its medicinal uses of soothing colicky babies, easing indigestion, and freshening breath. However, Roman gladiators were also known to take it to fortify themselves before battle—a decidedly non-soothing application.
Dill is an annual in the carrot family, but it will reseed itself if the Wisconsin winter is mild. It is native to the Mediterranean and southern Russia, and although most commercial production takes place in India and Pakistan, it is so easily grown in home gardens that the import levels to the United States are low.
The beauty of dill is its versatility. Not only is there a dual harvest, but it is also a beautiful landscape plant and the wispy fronds are often used as fillers in floral arrangements. The stems, leaves, flowers, and seeds are all edible. This herb is high in vitamins A and C with very few calories.
To grow dill, choose a well-drained site, rich with organic matter that receives six to eight hours of sunlight. Avoid a site with direct wind since the tall, hollow stalks will blow over if exposed to wind. Sow seeds one-fourth inch deep in rows two feet apart, spacing plants six to ten inches apart. Seed every few weeks until mid-summer to provide a steady supply. Dill does not require fertilization, but you should keep the patch weed free and provide an inch of water per week.
The leaves of dill (or dill weed) can be harvested as soon as they emerge by pinching them between your fingers. Toss some into a fresh salad, sauté them in with fresh vegetables, or add them to dips and sauces. It is best to add the dill at the end of the cooking time since high heat will diminish the flavor.
To harvest dill seeds, allow the plant to flower. There will be plenty of seeds on each plant, so go ahead and cut a few flowers and enjoy them in a vase. Allow the rest to go to seed, then cut the entire flower head just before the seeds turn tan. Gently shake the seeds into a paper bag. If they are not completely dry, hang the seed head upside down in a paper bag and put the bag in a warm, well ventilated area. Poke some holes in the sides of the bag for air circulation. The seeds will drop into the bag as they dry. Store completely dried seeds in an air-tight container away from heat and light. If used for pickling, cut the entire flower head plus the stem and place it in the jar of cucumbers, beans, or other pickled vegetable.
Although best used fresh, dill can also be dried or frozen for winter use. This herb is definitely the “real dill.” Try it, you will like it.
Carol Shirk, Certified Master Gardener