Edible Gardening

2010 Herb of the Year

And the winner is – Dill! The Herb Society of America has selected dill (Anethum graveolens) as the Herb of the Year for 2010.  It’s one of the easiest herbs to grow and perfect for both the new and seasoned gardener.

Dill comes in three forms – dill weed, seed and oil. Primarily used in making dill pickles, dill is a versatile herb that can be used as a condiment in the kitchen to spice up everything from soups to casseroles. And who hasn’t used dill as a seasoning on salmon? Even the fragrance industry has found a use for dill oil to produce soaps, perfumes, detergents, and lotions.

Dill

Dill

The beginnings of dill are traced back to the Mediterranean region, where it had a long history. The Egyptians used it 5,000 years ago as a soothing medicine. Dill seeds are often called “meetinghouse seeds” because church members would chew them during long services to stay awake. The seed was also used to freshen breath and quiet noisy stomachs. Brides in Germany and Belgium would attach a sprig of dill to their wedding gowns or carry it in their bouquets in the hopes that it would bring happiness to their marriages.

Dill is considered an annual, but sometimes behaves like a biennial. It needs full sun and should be planted in soil with a light to medium texture. Dill can grow up to 3 feet tall, so plant it in the back of the garden, with plants close together to support each other since they easily blow over. Caterpillars like dill, but you can easily pick these off by hand. Keep the soil moist, but not saturated, and well drained.

When to harvest the plant depends on if you want dill weed or dill seed. Either way, the optimum time to harvest is early morning when the moisture content is high for the best flavor. Dill weed is harvested before the plant is fully mature and before the flower buds have opened. Don’t let your plants bolt if you want a continuous supply of dill weed.

Dill seed is harvested at the end of the plant’s life cycle. The flowers will be spent, the stems will start drying out and the seeds will have turned a gold brown. Dill seed can be harvested by placing a paper bag over the seed heads and tying the opening closed. Cut the stems and hang them upside down in a warm, well-ventilated area to dry. After about two weeks, you can crush the dried seeds heads in your hand over a container to separate the seeds from the seed head. Or you can place the seed heads on a cookie sheet and put it in the freezer. After a few days remove the heads and rub the seed heads in your hand to loosen the seed.

Fresh cut dill weed can be stored in the refrigerator safely for two to three days. The stems can be placed in a cup of water to help keep the leaves fresh. Many cooks prefer fresh to dried because of its flavor. To dry dill naturally, lay freshly harvested dill weed on waxed paper and place it in a warm, dark spot with good air circulation. Once dried, store the leaves in an airtight container.

Source: The Herb Society of America