In the pantheon of fresh herbs, we have to say that dill is one of our favorites. Often unappetizingly called "dill weed," this wispy, feathery, dark green herb has a unique but strong flavor that can be compared to fennel or anise (via The Spruce Eats). If you’ve ever eaten a classic potato salad or a snappy dill pickle, you know exactly what we’re describing.
Dill (Anethum graveolens) is an annual herb that blooms in the summer months (via Missouri Botanical Garden), but is widely grown in greenhouses and is available year-round (via The Spruce Eats). It can grow to an impressive height of five feet (via Missouri Botanical Garden), but you’ll want to cut and eat your dill before its wide yellow flowers appear; once flowered, dill becomes more bitter and not as ideal for cooking (via The Spruce Eats). The leaves are not the only edible part of the plant; dill’s flat, oval seeds are also used in cooking and taste a bit like caraway seeds (via The Spruce Eats). Dill is related to both parsley and celery, though it does not resemble either of its cousins in taste (via The Spruce Eats).
Dill: a bit of history
Native to the eastern Mediterranean and western Asia (via The Spruce Eats), dill is now popular worldwide but remains a popular flavoring in dishes such as Greek tzatziki, Turkish zucchini pancakes, and Persian dill rice. The name "dill" comes from the old Norse "dylla," meaning to soothe (via The Spruce Eats), and some believe the plant to have a relaxing or tranquilizing effect (via Organic Facts). In ancient cultures, dill was variously believed to be a good luck charm (Rome), an aphrodisiac (Egypt), and a harbinger of wealth (Greece), according to The Spruce Eats.
Like many herbs, dill is reputed to have a number of medicinal qualities. In addition to helping calm both nerves and muscles, dill may settle the stomach, calm hiccups, and ease the pain of inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (via Organic Facts). Dill seeds might act as an appetite suppressant; according to The Spruce Eats, Puritans and Quakers passed out the seeds to children during long church services so that they didn’t get hungry mid-service.
How to cook with dill
In spite of having a fairly strong taste, dill is actually an extremely versatile ingredient that brings a fresh grassiness to a wide variety of dishes. In general, you will want to keep dill raw when using it in cooking; when the leaves are heated, they lose a lot of their flavor (via The Spruce Eats). Chopped fresh dill leaves are an excellent garnish for many dishes; more specifically, they’re found in ranch or buttermilk dressings (via "Today"), in Jewish chicken soup (from Epicurious) and in kosher pickles (posted at Southern Living), in beet borscht (at Taste of Home), in Mediterranean spinach pie (via Fine Cooking), and in many more.
Dill is particularly beloved by Greek culture and in neighboring Turkey. It is included in a vast range of the dishes of this region, including, in Greece, avgolemono lemon-chicken soup (at Food & Wine) and artichoke stew (The Spruce Eats); and, in Turkey, in Cacık (also from The Spruce Eats), or yogurt with cucumber and herbs, as well as in a variety of lamb dishes (via Epicurious).
Fresh dill vs. dried dill
Though many of us are familiar with fresh dill, dried dill and dried dill seeds are widely sold. As with most dried herbs, unfortunately, dried dill simply lacks the flavor and vibrancy of its fresh counterpart, and is best avoided (via The Spruce Eats). If dried dill is the only version you can find, you can use a little more of it than the fresh to get more flavor out of it (via The Spruce Eats); dishes in which dried dill might pass muster include ranch or buttermilk dressings, sour cream dip (Taste of Home), and oven-roasted potatoes (Le Creme de la Crumb).
Dill seeds are always dried and are sold in the supermarket in the spice aisle. Mild in flavor, dill seeds are often used in pickling, such cucumber pickles (The Kitchn) and pickled carrots (Food Network). The seeds are also used to make dill vinegar (also from Epicurious) and are often included in bread recipes (as in this recipe from the James Beard Foundation).
Where to buy dill
Fresh is widely available in most grocery stores, where it’s usually sold in the refrigerator case alongside other fresh herbs such as parsley and cilantro (via The Spruce Eats). Dill fronds are quite delicate and can bruise or get mushy, so make sure to select a bunch of dill that’s fresh, without any wilted leaves (via The Spruce Eats). If you happen to find a bunch with the roots still attached, it will last longer in the fridge once you get it home.
To store dill, wrap the bunch loosely in a plastic bag and stash it in the fridge, but try to use it quickly — within one or two days — because this herb doesn’t have a long shelf life (via The Spruce Eats). To keep dill fresh a few days longer, especially if it still has roots, you can place the bunch upright in a jar filled with a few inches of water, pop a plastic bag over the top, and transfer it to the fridge (via The Spruce Eats).
How to grow dill at home
If you’ve got a sunny patch of garden at your disposal, you can try growing dill at home. This herb is one of the easiest to cultivate; all it requires is an area with full sun and fertile, well-draining soil that’s relatively sheltered from strong winds (via The Old Farmer’s Almanac). Once soil temperatures are consistently above 60 degrees, sow dill seeds directly into the garden, about ¼-inch deep and 18 inches apart. Small dill plants should appear within a couple of weeks; wait another couple of weeks before thinning them to about 12 to 18 inches apart so they have room to grow. Water the dill generously, and you should be good to go.
Remember to harvest the un-flowered fronds for use in cooking; you can then allow some of the dill to flower and drop its seeds, ensuring a steady supply of dill over the season and even the following year. Time to get pickling!