Dill (Anethum graveolens) is an annual herb in the celery family Apiaceae. It is the only species in the genus Anethum. Dill is grown widely in Eurasia where its leaves and seeds are used as a herb or spice for flavouring food.
Dill grows up to 40–60 cm (16–24 in), with slender hollow stems and alternate, finely divided, softly delicate leaves 10–20 cm (4–8 in) long. The ultimate leaf divisions are 1–2 mm (0.04–0.08 in) broad, slightly broader than the similar leaves of fennel, which are threadlike, less than 1 mm (0.04 in) broad, but harder in texture. The flowers are white to yellow, in small umbels 2–9 cm (0.8–3.5 in) diameter. The seeds are 4–5 mm (0.16–0.20 in) long and 1 mm (0.04 in) thick, and straight to slightly curved with a longitudinally ridged surface.
Successful cultivation requires warm to hot summers with high sunshine levels; even partial shade will reduce the yield substantially. It also prefers rich, well-drained soil. The seeds are viable for three to ten years. The plants are somewhat monocarpic and quickly die after “bolting” (producing seeds). Hot temperatures may quicken bolting.
The seed is harvested by cutting the flower heads off the stalks when the seed is beginning to ripen. The seed heads are placed upside down in a paper bag and left in a warm, dry place for a week. The seeds then separate from the stems easily for storage in an airtight container.
These plants, like their fennel and parsley relatives, often are eaten by Black swallowtail caterpillars in areas where that species occurs. For this reason, they may be included in some butterfly gardens.
When used as a companion plant, dill attracts many beneficial insects as the umbrella flower heads go to seed. It makes a good companion plant for cucumbers and broccoli.
It is a poor companion plant for carrots and tomatoes.
Dill is an aromatic herb with delicate, feathery green leaves. Sometimes referred to as dill weed, dill is a member of the parsley family. Dill has been around since the Middle Ages and was thought to help defend against witchcraft. It is a well-known ingredient around the world and it’s used in many European and Scandinavian dishes.
Fresh vs. Dried Dill
Fresh dill can be purchased in most food stores along with other fresh herbs. Dill has long slender stems that divide into very thin, delicate, and wispy leaves. The leaves are commonly used in recipes while the stems are usually not included. Dill can be used dried in two forms: The dried leaves are a common spice and often referred to as “dill weed” to distinguish it from the seeds. The seeds of the dill plant can also be used as a spice and have a flavor similar to caraway.
Easy Ways to Use Dill
Dill is an herb that is often thought of as paired with salmon. It can accompany salmon in any number of ways, from dill sauce to curing salmon with dill and other spices. Additionally, dill pairs well with other seafood, crunchy vegetables, potato salads, pickles, or yogurt and/or sour cream-based dips.
Simple Recipes with Dill
Some quick and simple ways to use dill include the following recipes. Feel free to adjust them to your liking with additional herbs and your own variations.
Easy Dill Sauce:
- Stir half a cup of chopped dill into a cup of plain yogurt.
- Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a clove of minced garlic.
- Season to taste with kosher salt.
- This dill sauce would pair well with salmon cakes or a fresh vegetable crudite.
Roasted Double Dill Potatoes:
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Cut potatoes into bite-sized cubes and lay out on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
- Coat the potatoes with 3 tablespoons of olive oiland sprinkle with dried dill, salt, and pepper.
- Roast for 45 minutes, until tender and golden brown.
- Sprinkle cooked potatoes with cut fresh dill leaves and serve warm.
Dried dill should be kept in a sealed spice container in a dry, dark, and cool spice cabinet. Fresh dill will last longest if it is washed, carefully dried, gently wrapped in a paper towel, and stored in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator.
Dill is an easy plant for a home gardener to sow. It grows best when grown from seed, rather than from a transplant. Simply scatter the dill seeds in an area with high sunshine levels, preferably after the last winter frost. Cover the seeds lightly with soil and give the area a good watering. Planting in partial shade will reduce the dill’s yield, so aim for full sun. Plants should begin to emerge after two weeks; allow them another two weeks to grow before harvesting. Regularly trim the leaves you need and continue to harvest all summer long.
Dill plants are the host for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Don’t be surprised if you see them feasting on the dill—you will be rewarded later in the summer with beautiful butterflies.