2010 Herb of the Year: Dill (Anethum graveolens)

Get the scoop on this faithful favorite, from feathery foliage to flavor-packed pickles.

| February/March 2010

  • For a steady supply of feathery dill leaves for your salads, keep your plant cut back.
    Photo by David Cavagnaro
  • When dill seeds are ripe, they turn golden-brown.
    Photo by Susan Belsinger
  • "Lullaby dill, the baby calms to sleep; Fragrant dill, the cook bakes bread; Fruitful dill, the gardener goes to reap." —Carolyn Dille & Susan Belsinger "Herbs in the Kitchen" (Interweave Press, 1992)
    Photo by Rob Cardillo
  • Plump green seeds form after dill flowers. Eventually, they will mature to golden-brown. Click on the IMAGE GALLERY for more beautiful photos of dill.
    Photo by Rob Cardillo
  • After dill has bolted, it flowers spectacularly.
    Photo by Rob Cardillo
  • In early summer, dill flowers form on the umbels.

• Genus: Anethum graveolens
• Native Habitat: Europe
• Plant Type: Annual
• Parts Used: Leaf, flower and seed

Learn Even More About Dill  

Dill Recipes: 

• Dilled Ricotta Torte
• Favorite Coleslaw with Fresh Dill
• Pasta with Asparagus and Herbs
• Dilled Yellow Squash
• Corn Sticks with Dill
• Lemon, Dill and Pistachio Sharing Cookie 

Web Exclusive Recipe: Traditional Tzatziki served with Vegetable Crudités 

Dill, along with its close relative, fennel, grows shoulder- to head-high every summer in my garden. The bright yellow flower heads (sometimes as large as dinner plates) can literally be in your face. Although this is the showiest stage in the life cycle of Anethum graveolens, it’s hard to choose a favorite phase.

I find dill to be stalwart and accommodating all year. In early spring, when we gardeners are anxious to get our gardens underway, I sow my first salad green seeds, including dill, out in the cold earth. Dill and lettuces do best in cool spring and early fall, so it makes sense to plant them together in a “salad bed” in your garden. I impatiently anticipate the first harvest of baby salad greens—the bright lettuces and the ferny new growth of dill—from my salad bed. I grow and harvest dill as a salad crop in the cool weather, keeping the plants cut back so I have a continuous supply of tender, feathery foliage.

When the hot summer weather hits, the lettuces bolt, as do the edible herbal umbels in the salad bed—dill, cilantro and chervil. This is a good time to sow another planting for a fall harvest. I enjoy snipping the umbels and eating the yellow florets in salads, butters, egg dishes, potato salads and homemade vinegars. I don’t harvest all of the flowers, in order to save some seeds.

After dill flowers, it forms seed heads. Once the seeds are the size of regular dried dill seed, yet still in the green stage (before they mature to brown), they are bursting with flavor. I thoroughly enjoy the citrus and green caraway-like flavor of these green fruits. They add unique pizzazz to tzatziki, sauces, pickles, soups and salad dressings.

I don’t eat all of the green seeds; in the next stage, dill’s tall golden-brown umbels are laden with plump seeds, waiting for us to pick and dry them for cold-weather culinary delights or to save and sow again. For sowing the seeds, in her book Herbs and Savory Seeds (Dover Publications, 1972), Rosetta Clarkson claims that the seed retains its germination capacity for three years. In the kitchen, I reserve a few of the whole ripened-seed flower heads for pickles—I stuff them in the bottom of the quart jars.

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