Favourite Herbs: Dill

Dill

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Anethum graveolens

Annual; often self-seeds

Height 60 to 90 cm; spread to 15 cm.

Tall-growing green shoots sport umbels of bright-yellow inflorescences and finely fern-like, fragrant leaves.

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Anethum graveolens (common dill)

Anethum graveolens var. 'Fernleaf' (fernleaf dill): More compact than common dill, with excellent leaf production; a good variety for container growing.

Planting

Dill grows best seeded directly into the garden: it dislikes transplanting. Plant a small amount in early spring for salads and new potatoes, and several additional sowings every 2 to 3 weeks through June and early July for pickles. Sow seed thickly, as you would carrots.

How much: A 30-cm row for early harvest; a 3-m row for each later planting.

When: Around the date of the average last spring frost.

Where: Full sun; sheltered. Prefers rich, well-drained soil; will tolerate poor soil. Space rows 60 cm apart.

Care and Nurture

Dill is easy to grow! Once sown, garden dill requires little care other than watering if the summer is particularly dry. Dill grown in containers requires more care. Consistent watering and pruning will promote lush, leafy growth all summer. Aphids tend to attack dill once it sets seed.

Harvesting

You can begin harvesting dill when it is only a few centimetres high. The leaves, stems, flower heads, and seeds are all edible.

For best flavour: Harvest whole plant just as the flowers are opening.

Leaves: Harvest as needed throughout the growing season. Clip sprigs where they attach to the main growing stem or cut the whole plant a few centimetres above the ground. Discard thick, tough stems.

Flowers: Pick complete flower heads when they turn yellow, but before they get old. Cut the stalks of the flower heads where they attach to the growing stem.

Seeds: Harvest seeds when flower heads turn brown; ripe seeds will fall easily when touched.

Preserving the Harvest

Use fresh if possible. Freezing is the best way to preserve dill's flavour. Cut the whole plant before it flowers. Rinse the stems quickly, then shake and pat dry; discard any large, coarse stems. Mince with a sharp knife and freeze in a screw-top jar. Another method is to freeze the unchopped stems on a baking sheet, then transfer to sealed plastic freezer bags and return to the freezer. Dill will also keep in the fridge for a few days. Collect dill seeds and store in a clean jar with a tight-fighting lid; the seeds must be fully dried when harvested.

Tips

  • Dill can be sown quite early, so I always plant it as soon as I can get into the garden. But I hold off planting my major crop until mid June so that it ripens at the same time as cucumbers. This timing makes pickling much easier. The dill hasn’t set seed at this point, and I prefer to use the lush, ferny growth before the flower heads mature.
  • Dill readily self-sows. The seed usually survives the winter and volunteer plants spring up in the following season. However, volunteer dill usually matures too early for pickling and it's particularly prone to aphids because it matures when the aphids are at their peak, so use volunteer dill when it’s still very young for salads and seasoning.
  • Here’s an easy way to collect dill seeds! Cut stems when the seeds are nearly ripe, then tie a paper bag over the flower heads; hang upside down in bunches. The seeds will drop directly into the bag.
  • For a stronger dill flavour when making pickles, stuff the entire plant into the pickling jars.

To Note:

  • Many people tell me to avoid planting dill near fennel, because the flavour of both plants will be compromised if the two cross-pollinate. I’ve never had this problem, but I figure, why take a chance?
  • Dillweed happens to be one of dill's more common nicknames, alluding to the ease with which it is grown.
  • Dill oil is used in a number of commercial applications, including soaps and detergents.
  • Seed output will decrease if summer temperatures are very high; however, oil yields increase with greater day length and heat.
  • The Romans believed that dill was a "fortifying" herb, so it was common practice for gladiators heading into the arena to cover their (possibly last) meals with the herb to bolster their strength. The Romans were probably responsible for carrying dill to many of the regions where it now grows.
  • In the Talmud, it is noted that dill was subject to a tithe, suggesting the economic importance of the herb in the ancient world.
  • Carrying a bag of dill next to the heart was supposed to protect one against the Evil Eye.