Dill is an easy herb to grow

By Jim Janke | Jan 30, 2014

We’ve grown dill (Anethum graveolens) for over 30 years. My chef uses it to add flavor to a wide variety of foods like soups, dips, breads, poultry and seafood. Dill is also used in food preservation (especially dill pickles.) The leaves (aka “dill weed”), flowers and seeds are all edible, although mature seeds may be toxic to birds.

Dill is a member of the parsley family native to western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean, and was used in ancient Egypt for non-culinary purposes as far back as 5,000 years ago. Various cultures have credited dill with providing protection from witches, giving soldiers courage, freshening breath and reducing flatulence, blessing marriages, and increasing the potency of aphrodisiacs. (These benefits have not been confirmed by research, however!)

Growing dill from seeds indoors is easy, and a couple of plants will provide plenty for all but the most voracious pickler. Choose a variety that is slow to flower (“bolt”), like ‘Dukat’, ‘Fernleaf’ or ‘Triploid’ (I’ve had good luck with all three.) Scatter a few seeds on top of a soil-less seed starting mix, and cover with a light dusting of milled sphagnum moss. Cover the seed flat with plastic and place in a tray with a half inch of water. At room temperature the seeds should sprout in about a week. (You can also sow seeds directly in the garden or in containers after the last frost date, but germination might be less reliable.) Transplant groups of three or four stems to individual containers about two weeks after germination, then after the last frost date plant outside a foot or so apart. Don’t interplant with tomatoes, because mature dill plants can inhibit their growth. The plants can get top heavy with foliage and seeds, so stake to prevent them from being pulled out of the ground by a gust of wind.

Because dill bolts quickly, two crops are necessary for a season-long supply of leaves. Start indoors in late March for transplanting outside in mid-May, and sow again in late May for transplanting in early July. In September start another batch for indoor pots that will be ready in time for your Thanksgiving feast. Harvest by cutting off the top 6 or 8 inches of leaves starting about three weeks after transplanting. Cutting the plants back when they start to flower will extend the harvest a bit. Dill may reseed itself if you use the same patch of ground in successive years.

Freezing is a popular method for preserving herbs. Place clean leaves in water-filled ice cube trays and freeze. Or spread them onto a cookie sheet, freeze, then move to resealable plastic bags. If you prefer to dry the leaves or seeds, remove any dead or damaged stems, rinse to clean, then dry thoroughly on paper towels. Tie stems into small bundles and hang upside down in a warm, dry place out of the sun. To dry leaves in the microwave, make sure they are clean and very dry; if they are wet they’ll cook instead of drying properly. Place a handful of leaves on a dry paper towel and microwave for 1 minute on high power. Monitor the microwave continuously! Let the leaves cool, then turn and fluff them up with your hands. Repeat one or two more times until they are dry and crumbly.

Place dried dill in a plastic bag or resealable jar and store in a cool, dry place. Don’t crush the leaves until you are ready to use them. Fresh dried herbs retain much more flavor than the mechanically dried stuff from the grocery store.

Soil-less seed starting mix and milled sphagnum moss are available from seed catalogs and garden centers.

Jim Janke is an Extension Master Gardener volunteer in Haywood County. For more information call the Haywood County Extension Center at 456-3575.