Dill is the International Herb Association’s 2010 Herb of the Year! Dill, Anethum graveolensis, is native to the Mediterranean region, an annual or biennial, propagated easily from seed, prefers a rich well drained soil and full sun.
Dill has a long and ancient history in many countries as a culinary and medicinal herb. The earliest known record of dill as a medicinal herb was found in Egypt 5,000 years ago when the plant was referred to as a “soothing” medicine. Dill seeds are often called “meetin’ seed” because they were chewed during long church services to keep members awake or kids quiet. The seeds were also chewed in order to freshen the breath and quiet noisy stomachs. Today, dill is used in grippe water for babies with colic.
Charms were often made from sprigs of dill to provide protection from witchcraft; they were hung around the house or worn on the clothing. Dill was often added to love potions and aphrodisiacs to make them more effective. The herb was also believed to have an effect on marriages bringing happiness and good fortune.
You’ll probably know dill best from making dill pickles. Whole dill seed heads can be used for this purpose. Dill weed, seed, and oil are frequently added to baked goods, snacks, condiments and meat products. The fragrance industry makes use of dill essential oil to produce soaps, perfumes, detergents, creams and lotions, but I can honestly say I never purchased any dilly perfume or soap! I prefer to eat my dill!
Cooks often prefer to use dill weed (leaves) because it has a stronger flavor than that of dill seed. The seeds are often used as a condiment, but they can also be combined with onions, cabbage, potatoes, cumin, chili powder and paprika. Chopped or whole dill weed can be added to soups, stews, casseroles, meat dishes, pasta, and eggs. It can also enhance all types of sauces, dips, butters and cheeses. An especially good combination is that of salmon and dill (tartar sauce?).
Like most herbs, dill is harvested in the early morning after the morning dew has evaporated. The higher moisture content of the plant when harvested at this time results in better flavor. Don’t let your dill plants bolt if you want a continuous supply of dill for harvesting. As with most herbs, keep their tops trimmed regularly…cut, cut, cut. Dill weed is best harvested before the plant is fully mature and before the flower buds have opened. Dill seed may be harvested at the end of the plant’s life cycle when the seeds have turned a golden brown color…or allowed to self-sow for next year’s harvest.
Most cooks prefer fresh dill to dried because of its superior flavor, but leaves will stay fresh in the refrigerator if placed in a cup of water for two to three days. Dill may also be air-dried and stored in a dark, airtight container for later use (but, replace the dried when you’re back in the garden). I prefer to store my winter supply of dill picked fresh and placed in a zip-lock bag in the freezer.
I hope you plan to include dill in your herb garden!