Dill (Anethum graveolens) is easy to grow from seed. I just throw a few seed in a large plastic container on my deck in late March. I don’t worry about frost or cold nights but I do make sure the top of the soil is moist until I see the leaves come through the soil and then I water a little less often. Here in Virginia, we seem to have plenty of rain or snow in March so the seeds do not dry out. Now, when the garden soil is warmer, I will gently lift the seedlings out with a trowel and plant in the garden bed in full sun.
Native to the Mediterranean area, dill is a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae). Dill is an annual that may re-seed in the garden. Usually dill foliage, also called dill weed, is used for culinary purposes. It can be used fresh or dried — dried dill weed retains the flavor well. Fresh foliage is great in egg dishes, fish, tomato salads, cucumber salads, cooked carrots, fresh veggie dishes and even dill butter. In the winter, dried dill can be used for canned veggies, egg dishes, and tuna salad. It is easy to dry the foliage, just wash and let dry flat on paper towels for a few weeks, then store in a glass jar.
Dill also is a medicinal herb. The name means to calm or soothe and dill was used to calm troubled stomachs and colicky infants. It is a very old herb that was used by Greeks and Romans.
Dill can be grown in containers or in the ground. However, since some varieties can be several feet tall, the containers need to be heavy and large enough so winds won’t knock the plant over. Dill also is a host plant for butterflies. You may see the distinctive caterpillars of the black swallowtails on the foliage. They can decimate the foliage very quickly so plant some for you and some for them.
Dill tends to flower quickly in the summer. You may be able to sow again up until mid-summer. The flowers are actually beneficial to the garden, they attract the good bugs. The flowers are edible and can be used to garnish a dish. They can be used in floral arrangements and there are specific cultivars that produce large flower heads for this purpose.
However, once the plants flower, they set seed and the plant itself starts to put energy into the seed and not the foliage. It is easy to save the seed because they are all in one structure called an umbel. When the seeds are brown, simply cut the stalk to the umbel into a large paper bag. Let dry for a few weeks, then put the umbel on a plate or in a large bowl and rub the seeds off. Store seeds in a glass jar and either use them in the kitchen or plant them next year. Seeds can be used in baking, breads, or crackers.
So much has been written about this old herb, one can easily search for information on the internet or in herb books. It was the Herb of the Year for 2010, and a booklet is available for purchase by the International Herb Association. A free, downloadable dill booklet is Essential Guide to Dill, published by the Herb Society of America.
The plant as well as seed packets should be easy to find in local nurseries but if you cannot find dill, check out these seed companies.
Dill and fennel, and in some places, feverfew, used to be naturalized around some of the suburban areas of the Santa Clara Valley decades ago. They are some of the seemingly native plants that I miss from that time, now that the region is all so urban. In some situations, dill dominated, and exudes that distinctive aroma while in bloom during warm weather.