Dill, dill weed, (or dillweed) is an annual herb that is part of the celery botanical family (apiaceae). You’ve hear of dill before, and you’ve probably used it to garnish a lovely borscht soup with sour cream, or you’ve overdone it with garnishing a salmon fillet.
This lovely edible herb is the only member of the genus anethum, and it grows both in the wild and as a cultivated plant all over the planet, particularly in Eurasia. It’s grown for its seeds and leaves as a staple garnish and spice in many food cultures.
Dill has been around for a long time. The first ever record of it being used comes from a petrified specimen that was found in the tomb of the Egyptian King, Amenhotep II. This plant dates back to around 1400 BC!
Dill plants are an absolutely essential member of your edible plant garden. They make for a great companion plant for other flowering plant species, not to mention they are quite charming to look at, and they attract pollinators and beneficial insects to your garden!
What Does Dill Look Like?
Though they aren’t exactly grown for their flowers, dill plants have charming little flowers nonetheless! Each tiny flower will be either white or yellow, and they grow in small clusters called umbels.
The entire umbel will be between 1 and 3 inches in diameter. Flowers are usually borne in the summer, and once pollinated will bear fruit in the form of small seeds with a ridged surface.
Seeds are dispersed either through wind, water, or through the fecal matter of various mammal and bird species. Or, through the seed harvesting by the plant owner to propagate their own specimens!
Dill leaves are a very soft and delicate leaf (the edible portion of the plant) that will usually be around 4-8 inches long. Leaves are finely divided and alternately arrange along a stem.
This dark green foliage has a similar branching pattern to fennel, with a light and feathery texture. These feathery leaves are said to have a similar taste and scent to fennel as well!
Dill weeds grow from strong taproots (which they have in common with carrot!) which yields long and slender hollow stems that can reach 16-24 inches in height.
Dill is an annual plant, meaning that it will experience its entire life cycle within one annual year. But fear not, they proliferate through seed dispersal, and once you have a dill plant on your property it will continue to grow in sunny places year after year.
Where is Dill Native to?
Though dill was originally a native plant to southeastern countries and the Mediterranean, it is now cultivated and naturalized all over Eurasia, India, and North America.
It can live in any region that receives warm to hot summers and plenty of sunlight. They can survive and thrive in USDA growing zones 2 through 9!
How do you Grow a Dill Plant?
Dill is a wonderfully easy plant to grow on your own. One needn’t be an expert gardener to figure it out, and all of us could use a little bit more of this funky herb in our lives!
To get started, either get some dill seed from a friend with an existing plant, or purchase your own from a nursery. Dill develops through taproots, and it needs to be started outside in its permanent place as it does not transplant well.
The most important part about growing your own plants is picking the perfect spot on your property. Dill requires a spot with nutrient rich and well draining soil. They make a wonderful companion plant for cucumber and broccoli, but don’t bring them anywhere near onions, cabbage, or carrots!
Once the last threat of frost has passed, sow seed directly into the soil, only about a quarter of an inch under the soil, but 18 inches apart from one another. Ensure that they are watered plenty but gently during this germination period.
Seedlings should begin to form within 10-14 days of the first planting. The best germination occurs when temperatures reach 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Since dill is an annual plant, the ones that you first establish in your garden will die after they go to seed. From here, you can either collect the seeds before they disperse, or let the plant go to seed so that they can reproduce where they please.
To collect your own seeds, simply cut the flower heads off the stalks of the plant as they begin to open. Get a paper bag and place the flower head upside down in the bag.
Leave them like this in a warm and dry place for about a week. After a week has past, shake the flowers so that the dried seeds all fall away from the flowers.
You can either save the seed heads for the following spring planting season in a dry, air tight container, or, you can keep them as a seed spice in your pantry!
What are the Growing Conditions of Dill Plants?
Though dill plants are able to tolerate many different soil types, they perform best in soil that is rich in nutrients. If the soil on your property isn’t particularly nutrient rich, simply incorporate some compost!
Soil should also be very well drained. The acidity level should either be acidic or neutral. The prime soil types are either loamy or sandy.
One of the more specific requirements for dill plants is sun exposure levels. They adore living in full sun conditions. Though they are able to tolerate partial shade, this will usually result in smaller leaves and a reduced flower yield as well.
Dills prefer to receive a moderate amount of water. Though natural precipitation will usually suffice to keep soil moist, they may need some extra help during more dry seasons.
This can be done by watering generously once a week. Adding a layer of mulch to the top soil will also help retain moisture levels and protect the plant from drought.
Dill plants are annuals, and therefore will experience their life cycle within one single year. Therefore, they will not survive the winter. That being said, they can exist USDA growing zones 2 through 9.
This plant does have rather specific seed germination requirements, where seeds will germinate best within temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dill weeds do not need fertilizer in order to prosper. Having a nutrient rich soil will be more than enough to keep a happy plant.
Since the leaves, stems, flowers, and seeds of the dill plant are all edible, there would be no sense in pruning away any part of the plant until it is ready to be harvested.
At the end of the day, growing dill plants is remarkably easy to do! Simply remember that they are not tolerant to shade, and that they are not tolerant to drought or to flooding.
How is Dill Weed Used?
Dill plants are an absolutely essential edible herb to incorporate into your garden. Dill seeds are used as spices, and their feathery green leaves can be eaten as fresh dill or dried dill .
Dill herb is a very common one to use as a garnish for various savoury vegetable or fish dishes or egg dishes, and on top of soups and stews like borscht garnished with sour cream. Fresh dill weed sprigs are commonly added to traditional dishes like potato salad along with parsley and caraway!
The dried herb is often used for its intense dill flavor and is added to salad dressing, sauces, and soups. Dill leaf will make any dish more flavorful, fresh and interesting.
And let’s not forget about the dill pickle! A pickle would hardly be a pickle without dill as the main ingredient. Where would we be without pickles?!
Less popular than fresh dill weed, or dried dill, or dill seed; is dill essential oil! This is basically dill extract done through the distillation of the entire plant. Though not exactly used for cooking, dill oil is said to have a calming effect when used in a diffuser!
The dill flower is a super attractor when it comes to beneficial insects and pollinators, and so it is often incorporated into butterfly gardens. It is one of the main sources of food for the black swallowtail caterpillar.
Dill plants also make for a great companion plant when it comes to symbiotic gardening practices. They help provide specific nutrients to the soil that other plants like cucumber and broccoli lacks. However, make sure to keep them away from cabbage, onions, and carrots!