By Julie Jacobson Master Gardener
One of my favorite herbs is dill, Anethum graveolens, a member of the Umbelliferae family as are fennel, parsley and cilantro has diversity as a culinary herb.
Native to the Mediterranean region, dill was used by the ancient Romans and Greeks to crown returning war heroes; they also used it medicinally for digestive problems (a use that persists even to today) and burned the seeds as incense. (The aroma of the plant is delicate — tones of anise, parsley, and celery — while the scent of the seeds is reminiscent of anise and caraway.) Dill later spread north through Europe to the British Isles and Scandanavia where leaves were used to add flavor to fish dishes and the seeds were used to preserve pickles as well as to flavor breads, sauces and salads.
Dill was brought to America by the European colonists. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Shakers sold dried seed as a medicinal herb to brew into digestive infusions and to carry in one’s handkerchief to chew like gum. In Colonial America dill seeds were often called “Meetin’ seeds” to help quiet fussy children and suppress hunger pangs during sermons that could last as long as three hours. Dill seed tea was also given to colicky babies. Today it is used in salads, egg dishes, breads, butters, with chicken and fish dishes and pickles.
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There are a number of varieties of dill on the market. They are all annuals and the seeds of all germinate easily. Some of the most popular are: “Bouquet,” which is fairly compact for the home garden; “Delikat,” which is compact with bushy growth and thick dark green leaves; “Dukat” is best known for its strong flavor; and “Fernleaf,” a dwarf plant and slower to bolt, is good as a potted plant. New introductions for this year are “Green Sleeves” purported to be very resistant to bolting and “Monia” said to be the best variety for growing in pots.
Since dill likes cool weather and long days, when a minimum 25 degree Fahrenheit night temperature is reached, direct seed dill on a smooth, slightly acidic, well-prepared field every few weeks (in a spot somewhat sheltered from the wind) from early spring to late summer.
A medium to heavy, well-drained, organic soil is preferred, as is six to eight hours of full sun. To help with germination, you can soak the seeds for four days in water with 50 milligrams of ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Plant 15 to 20 seeds per foot of row and thin to three or four plants per foot. Dill is sensitive to water stress, so when the plant reaches 2 feet tall, stop overhead sprinkling and water at ground level. Early fall dill plantings will produce leaves for several weeks, even after the first light frosts. Late-fall sowings will germinate the following spring. If grown in a greenhouse, it will need full sun. There is no truth to the rumor that you cannot plant dill and fennel near each other; they will not cross-pollinate.
Dill does not compete well with weeds, so must be weeded regularly. It may also be subject to Fusarium root rot, as well as aphids (especially in the dill heads). Insecticidal soap may help. Dill may be harvested throughout the season, but seeds should be harvested as soon as they start to turn brown. Although dill weed is best used fresh, it can be chopped and frozen for later use. Dill has a frustratingly short 8 to 10 day season of foliage production before flowering and dying. Any seeds left on the ground from spring plantings will germinate in the fall when the weather has cooled off. To harvest the seeds, allow the umbels (flower heads going to seed) to form and the seeds to turn light brown. Cut the tops with about a foot of stalk and hang upside down in a paper bag to catch the seeds. Be sure they completely dry.
If you plant dill with parsley, fennel, oregano and nasturtiums near sunny paved areas they will attract butterflies. Dill is a valuable food source for black swallowtail butterfly larva, so please plant plenty to share with those beautiful striped caterpillars. While you’re at it, plant enough for the rabbits, too (helps to lure them away from the rest of the garden if the dill patch is off to itself.)
I use dill in so many ways in the kitchen from sauces, marinades, breads or salads. A simple dill dip/sauce can be used to accompany grilled salmon/fish dishes or vegetable crudities. Stir together 1½ cups low fat mayonnaise, 1½ cups fat free sour cream or Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons of pickle juice, 1 tablespoon of dried parsley, 2 tablespoons of dried dill, 1 tablespoon of dried onion, -teaspoon of garlic powder and a -teaspoon of black pepper.
Here’s a couple of other dill favorites:
2 cloves quartered garlic
2 generous handfuls of dill.
Simmer the brining liquid in a saucepan over medium heat until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Combine the ingredients for the beans and split equally in the 2 pint jars. Trim ends from green beans before placing vertically to fit in the jar until full.
Once brining liquid has cooled to room temperature pour approximately half of the liquid into each jar. Cover and swirl slightly to disperse spices. Refrigerate beans until ready to use, they are not intended for long term pantry storage without processing.
1 package active dry yeast
cup warm water (110-115 degrees)
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
All ingredients should be room temperature except water. Soften yeast in water and set aside. In bowl combine cottage cheese, sugar, onion, butter, dill seed, salt, soda, and egg. Mix until blended then stir in yeast. Gradual add flour, dough will be stiff. Cover and let rise in warm place for one hour. Stir down dough, turn into 8-inch round casserole dish. Let rise for 40 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 minutes. Brush with additional butter and cut in wedges.
For additional information or questions about herbs, the community gardening project and the Master Gardener Program please contact Nebraska Extension, West Central Research and Extension Center at 308-532-2683.