By: Justin Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
Dill is an aromatic herb – in the same family as celery and parsley – that has been praised for its flavor and medicinal properties since the earliest recorded history. The plant is prized for its feathery green leaves, as well as its edible seeds. The leaves are used in dishes from soups to salads to breads and even desserts. Dill is especially popular in Nordic countries, where it grows in the wild and pairs so well with cold-water fish.
Dill seeds hold up much better in higher-heat cooking than dill leaves (add leaves at the very end). Also, dill seeds are easier to store. Although dill leaves can be frozen, dill is best preserved by saving the seeds to be used throughout the year.
Of course, dill is most famous as a flavoring for pickles. Dill and cucumbers mature at just about the same time, which is one of the reasons these two go so well together. The taste of cucumber pickled with dill is one of the best flavor combinations in all of nature.
Dill thrives in cold, wet weather, and can withstand a light frost, but not a heavy freeze. Water the soil deeply if you anticipate freezing weather. This may seem counter-intuitive, but moisture actually warms the soil.
All dill varieties bolt in the early summer heat and go to flower, desired because the flowers produce seeds. The variety Bouquet flowers sooner in the spring heat, while Elephant dill produces leaves longer and goes to seed later in the season.
Dill makes a gorgeous potted plant. Plant Bouquet dill in a well-draining pot with rich potting soil. Bring the plant indoors overnight if a frost or freeze is expected. Keep a pot in a sunny window in the kitchen. It’s always nice to have some dill in the windowsill!
Plant in full sun in richly composted, well-drained soil. Grows easily from seed, but best planted as transplant in early January. Space 12”; becomes leggy and up to 36” height in heat. Mulch with native leaves. Keep soil moist until plant is established. Prune regularly by taking top 4” of each stalk. Clip flowers to promote growth. Dill attracts caterpillars (swallowtail butterfly); pluck these with fingers and relocate away from garden.
Dill grows leggy in the heat of April. Continue to water plants as the pretty yellow flowers appear as starbursts on each of the stems. The flowers will turn brown as the seeds dry. Clip the stems at the base of the flower heads (if you wait too long, the seeds will blow away) and place the stems upside-down in a paper sack. The dried seeds will fall to the bottom. Store in a cool, dry place.
“Dill is one of those herbs people usually see chefs use as garnish, but underestimate its flavor and possibilities. I prefer using it as an accompaniment to seafood dishes. To whip up a quick, impressive dinner, a nice grilled Atlantic Salmon with a lemon dill sauce would be great. It would also be lovely sprinkled on air fryer chips or roasted vegetables. Just a little goes a long way for this feathery herb! It’s fantastic for most salads as well— pasta, potato, and even a classic chicken salad.” – Megan Lee, 8TE @8tecctx
The ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” recorded a recipe for a mouthwash made from dill seeds to clean the gums and freshen the breath. Dill is still used in several modern chewing gums. Dill contains anti-bacterial properties; medieval Europeans used dill in a poultice to treat wounds. The French emperor Charlemagne passed dill seeds around to his guests after a large meal, to decrease flatulence in his hall.