Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a cold season herb in the carrot family (Apiaceae). It prefers moist conditions and cooler temperatures to produce its light, feathery leaves. But come summer it will shoot up firework umbels of bright yellow flowers and produce lots of seeds–or more accurately, dried fruits called schizocarps.
It’s thought to be native to the Mediterranean region. Now it’s widely distributed around the globe and cultivated extensively in Egypt, India, Europe and North America.
The English word dill comes from the Norse word dylla meaning “to soothe,” whereas its scientific name roughly translates from Latin and Greek to mean “a vigorous growing plant that emits a strong smell.” Both etymologies accurately depict this versatile, flavorful herb.
DILL IN HISTORY
The earliest known use of dill dates back to ancient Egypt, where it was used as a “soothing medicine.” The Ebers Papyrus (a medical text circa 1550BCE) recommends dill in a pain killing remedy and it was found in the tomb of Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep II.
It’s been used in Traditional Persian Medicine and Ayurveda, used primarily to treat digestive issues.
The ancient Greeks would burn dill scented oil in their homes, used the oil to make certain wines, believed it could cure hiccups, and used it as a sleep aid, draping the fronds over tired eyes in hopes of a restful slumber. Both the ancient Greeks and Romans thought dill could heal wounded soldiers and would grant them valor and courage.
In the Middle Ages, its powerful aroma was thought to offer protection from witchcraft and so it was hung around homes. Ironically, magicians also used dill in their spells.
Dill was brought to North America by early colonists. Its fruits were known as “meeting house seeds” as they were given to children to chew during church services to keep them from feeling hungry and keep them occupied.
It’s been used historically to freshen breath–a quality that really works–and is still thought to soothe upset stomachs and ease flatulence.
DILL IN THE GARDEN
Dill is a cool season herb, growing best in spring and fall. Warmer weather will halt leaf production and cause the plant to flower.
Dill is a great companion plant for brassicas (e.g. cabbage, broccoli, kale), which grow in similarly cool conditions. Its strong aroma is known to repel cabbage moths, deterring them from laying eggs and therefore preventing the caterpillars from munching on their leaves.
Also a friend to beneficial insects, dill is a favorite host for butterflies, Anise and Black Swallowtails in particular. The caterpillars of the latter can look similar to Monarchs, but don’t be fooled, Monarchs feed on milkweed.
Unlike fennel, dill has hollow stems and is therefore more vulnerable in the wind.
DILL IN THE KITCHEN
Dill leaves (also called dillweed), flower heads and seeds (or schizocarps) are all used in the kitchen. The essential oils found in the leaves differ from those found in the seeds, which is why they aren’t used interchangeably.
The seeds are known to be more bitter with more pronounced undertones of anise and caraway. Their flavors take longer to release, so it’s suggested to add them at the beginning of cooking. Dill seeds are excellent additions to lamb, fish, sauces and casseroles. They also pair well with onion, cabbage, potatoes, cumin and chili powder.
Dillweed is as delicate as their feathery appearance suggests. Although they have a strong aroma, add the leaves at the end of cooking or as a garnish so as to not deplete their flavors. Dillweed pairs especially well with lemon, cucumber, eggs, zucchini, salmon and seafood.
The flower heads are often used for pickling although tender heads can be chopped up and used as a flavorful garnish for soups and salads.
Very popular in German, Scandinavian and Russian cuisine, you’ll find dill in any number of global cuisines. It’s used in India for dishes such as dhansak, in Greece to flavor dolmadakis, in Sweden to make gravlax, in Russian borscht, German pickles, French pastries, Sri Lankan salads, there are just so many ways to use dill!
Check out our blog for some more dill recipes, including potato salads and a green shakshuka.
HOW TO COOK WITH DILL
Dill will keep in the fridge for only a few days. Check out our blog post to learn the best ways to keep it fresh. Wait to wash it until right before use. Rinse under cool water and gently pat dry.
As mentioned above, dillweed is more delicate and its flavors are easily lost in cooking. Wait to add it at the end of cooking (last minute or two) or as a garnish. Dill seed should be added early to let its flavors release.
Dill is a great companion for pickling cucumbers or cauliflower. For pickling, add whole flower heads and/or leaves to the jar. If you can’t find any flowers, you can use the conversion:
3/4 tsp seeds = 1 flower head
For an “unusual but addictive” combination, try mixing dill leaf and cilantro–so says Ian Hemphill in his book The Herb and Spice Bible.
BEST FLAVOR PAIRINGS
- Other Herbs: basil, chives, cilantro, lemon balm, lemon thyme, lovage, mint, parsley
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