674 Anethum graveolensCommon Names: dill, dill weed Family: Apiaceae (carrot Family)
Dill is an erect, freely branching annual herb with finely dissected, lacy, blue-green foliage. "Dill weed" refers to the foliage, and the seeds are usually just called "dill." The leaves are about 1 ft (0.3 m) long and divided pinnately three or four times into threadlike segments each about 1 in (2.5 cm) long. The dill plant grows about 3-5 ft (0.9-1.5 m) tall and sometimes gets top heavy and falls over. The flowers are yellow and borne in large, rounded, compound umbels (umbrella-like clusters in which all the flower stems originate from the same point) on stiff, hollow stems. The whole inflorescence can be 10 in (25 cm) across, and several of them on a feathery blue-green framework can be showy indeed. The fruit is a flattened pod about an eighth of 1 in (2.5 cm) long. All parts of the dill plant are strongly aromatic.
'Dukat' produces abundant foliage and is best for dill weed. 'Bouquet' has large seed heads and is ideal for use in pickling spices. 'Fernleaf' is small, to 18 in (0.5 m), slow to bolt, and good for containers. 'Long Island Mammoth' is the most widely grown dill cultivar and is suitable for both dill weed and dill seeds.
Native originally to southwestern Asia, dill is now naturalized in many parts of Europe and the northern US. Dill is a very popular flavoring in northern, central and eastern European countries, but hardly used at all in France or Italy. Dill is almost indispensable in Russian and Scandinavian cookery. In India, 'Sowa' dill, which is more pungent than European and American varieties, is an essential ingredient in curry.
CultureDill is fast growing and of very easy cultivation. Light: Dill does best in full sun; it becomes leggy and prone to topple over in partial shade. Moisture: Dill does best in well drained soil with typical garden watering. It may bolt quickly to flower during a prolonged dry spell. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 11. Dill is an annual that can be grown all summer in USDA zones 3-7, in spring and fall in zone 8, and in the winter in zones 9-11. In hot weather dill flowers and goes to seed quickly. Propagation: Sow dill seeds where they will be grown about the time of the last expected frost. Plant dill every couple weeks to insure a constant supply of fresh leaves. Dill usually self sows, and it's best to pick a spot in the garden where you would like to have it year after year.
Dill, with its lacy blue-green foliage and showy umbrellas of yellow flowers, is an attractive addition to the flower border as well as the herb garden. Don't omit dill from the butterfly garden as it a premiere larval food source for many species.
Harvest dill foliage as needed. Dill weed usually is used fresh, but it can be frozen; dried dill weed is a poor substitute for the fresh. The seeds are harvested just as they begin to turn brown, usually 2-3 weeks after the flowers have finished. Cut seed heads off and dry in a paper bag until the seeds can be shaken from the seed heads. Store in an airtight jar.
Dill is, of course, the principal flavoring in dill pickles, but it also is used to add zest to potato salads, egg salads and sauerkraut, and to flavor vinegars and sauces for fish. Dill goes well with cabbage and other boiled vegetables. Often the seeds are used for these purposes, but the leaves serve equally well. We use fresh dill leaves in salads, and on broiled salmon.
Dill (and other members of the carrot family) are the sole food plants for the caterpillars of the beautiful black swallowtail butterfly. Dill flowers attract beneficial insects to the vegetable garden, too. Lacewings and syrphid fly adults eat the pollen of dill and other carrot family plants, and their larvae prey on plant sucking aphids. I always keep a few dill plants scattered here and there throughout the vegetable garden. Usually wherever they come up is fine with me; sometimes I have to make an executive decision and move a seedling a few feet one way or another.
The dried flower heads of dill provide an attractive, airy form for floral arrangements.
Steve Christman 5/7/00; updated 7/5/03, 10/9/03