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2010 Herb of the Year: All About Dill

| February/March 2010

  • For a steady supply of feathery dill leaves for your salads, keep your plant cut back.
    Photo by David Cavagnaro

Dill grows from a thick, hollow, round stem. Feathery foliage in shades from muted bright green to blue-green reach about 18 to 48 inches in height, depending on the variety. The bright yellow flowers are borne on umbels which become heavy with flavorful dill seed later in the season. Dill attracts the swallowtail butterfly caterpillar, which devours its tender foliage; so plant enough to share with these creatures and the other beneficial insects that dill attracts.

Growing Dill

Dill will grow in most climates and requires sun, well-drained soil and light fertilization. It germinates and grows quickly and may be planted after danger of frost, or year-round in suitable climates. To ensure constant leaf harvest in my Zone 7 garden, I keep it cut back from the get-go. Depending upon where you live, sow seed at least a few times from spring through fall. According to Art Tucker, Ph.D., in the Big Book of Herbs (Interweave Press, 2000), “Dill responds to cool weather and long days, so as soon as a minimum 25-degree night temperature is reached, direct seeding is done on a smooth, well-prepared field from early spring to late summer. Separate plantings a few weeks apart will provide a continuous crop of dill weed for the fresh market.” I live in Maryland and Art lives in Delaware; this system works for us. Folks up in the North might have dill in their gardens all summer, while someone in Florida or Texas will probably sow dill as a late fall and winter crop. Dill will bolt in hot, dry weather, or if it is crowded. Dill’s taproots dig down 12 to 18 inches and its branches need room to spread, so don’t bother trying to grow it indoors.

Harvesting Dill

Harvest dill’s feathery foliage throughout the season; the tender young sprigs are the best for salads. The flowers are delicious; just snip them from their stems and sprinkle them over salads, vegetables or use them in butters or vinegars. To harvest seeds, allow the umbels to form on some plants. The flavor of green dill seeds is marvelous and I enjoy it in this stage of maturity, especially in pickling. Allow the seeds to turn pale brown in order to collect them and dry them for culinary or sowing purposes. Cut the tops from the plants with about a foot or so of the stalk intact and hang upside down over a screen or with the umbels in paper bags to catch the seeds. When dry, store in dark glass jars.

While researching dill, I was surprised to find it mentioned in only a few of my medicinal herb books. The seeds are most often used medicinally, although the foliage is sometimes used. Perhaps the best-known use for dill, passed down for centuries, is an infusion of the leaf or decoction of the seed to remedy a baby’s colic. Dill seeds are pungent and have soothing and warming properties; they help aid digestion and are a tonic for the stomach, relieving gastric and intestinal distress. A cup of dill seed tea eases the discomfort from digestive upsets and helps insomnia, acting as a mild soporific.

Dill For Health

Dill seed oil is antibacterial and will allay bad breath. Chewing a few dill seeds will freshen breath and help digestion, so it’s great after meals. Dill is a diuretic and also helps to tonify the liver and pancreas. It has been used to increase milk flow in nursing mothers and to ease menstrual pain. It helps alleviate moist conditions in the body, so it is sometimes used in treating viral conditions. Soaking your hands in a dill seed decoction will not only relax you, it also will strengthen your nails.

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