Dill, or Dillweed (Anethum graveolens)
Dill (Anethum graveolens), a member of the carrot family, has been a favorite culinary herb for centuries, valued both for its flavorful foliage and pungent seeds. The name "dill" comes from an old Norse word, "dilla," which means "to lull," this plant having been frequently prescribed as a tea to treat insomnia and digestive problems. Dill is a delightful herb with many culinary uses. Native to southern Europe, it is a staple in Greek cooking. It is common in Scandinavian and German food as well. Fresh or dried, dill leaves add a distinctive flavor to salads, fish, vegetable casseroles and soups. Used whole or ground, dill seeds add zest to breads, cheeses, and salad dressings. The seeds are the best way to use dill in dishes that require cooking over a long time. Of course, dill is best known as a pickling herb for cucumbers, and also green beans, carrots and beets.
Annuals, dill plants die each year, but their seeds can winter over in the soil to pop up the following year. Dill grows well in gardens throughout the US and southern Canada (zones 3-10).
Dill adds an ornamental element wherever it grows. Combine it with flowers in a bed or border. Its fern-like foliage provides a soft background for smaller sun-loving petunias, daisies, marigolds and others. Plant it with other herbs near the kitchen or in containers such as window boxes or planters so its fine texture contrasts with the coarser foliage of basil, mints and others. Its yellow umbrella-like flowers make great cut flowers.
Properly sited and planted, dill is so fast-growing that some of its foliage is mature enough to be harvested in only eight weeks. Plan to sow several crops in succession, three weeks apart, to assure a supply over the entire growing season. Dill does best in full sun (with a bit of afternoon shade in the South). While fairly tolerant of poor soil conditions, it prefers a sandy or loamy soil that drains well. It is a light feeder, so extra fertilizer is not necessary in a reasonably fertile soil.
Growing Dill in Containers
Dill, especially dwarf type, grows very well in containers. It is a good companion for other sun-lovers like flowering annuals, other herbs, or vegetables such as patio tomatoes. Use a container that is at least 10 inches deep to accommodate its taproot. Be sure the container has drainage holes. Fill it with moistened soilless potting mix to within 2 inches of its top. Either add some granular, slow-release fertilizer to the mix before planting or plan to feed container plants once a month with a diluted general-purpose liquid fertilizer when you water.
Caring for Dill
When growing from seed, allow 2 to 6 inches of space between seedlings. Once plants have established good root systems, water only when rainfall is sparse if your soil is decent and mulched. In thin, poor and un-mulched soil, dill needs watering a couple of times a week.
Harvesting and Storing Dill
Dill tastes better picked just before flowers form so start picking the leaves just as soon as they are large enough to use. If you prefer to harvest dill seed, allow the flowers to form, bloom, then go to seed. Cut the seedheads when the majority of seeds have formed--about 2 to 3 weeks after the blossoming starts--even though some tiny florets may still be blooming. Hang the seedheads upside down by their stems in a paper bag. The seeds will fall into the bag when they mature and dry out.
To store dill longer, dry it by hanging bunches of stems upside down in a dark, dry, airy place until they are crumbly. Store in a tightly sealed jar away from light and use within 4 to 6 months. Or use a food dehydrator according to instruction in its package.