Some herbs just need a little more public relations in order to earn a starring role, and underused and underappreciated dill (Anethum graveolens) is one of them. Dill's feathery stature lends a graceful note to any herb patch with its very finely cut, blue-green foliage growing easily up to 3 feet on hollow, upright stems topped, when the plant matures, by delicate heads of tiny greenish-yellow flowers arranged in clusters like inverted umbrellas. All parts of the plant are aromatic with a slightly sharp, yet sweet flavor.
Dill is grown for its foliage and anonymous-looking flat, brown seeds. The seeds are rich in valuable mineral salts, vitamin C and flavonoids. The name dill comes from the Saxon word "dillan" and the Norse word "dilla," both of which mean to lull. Dill has long had a reputation for being a soothing, sedative herb, and from early times, it has been used for its carminative properties (look it up) in solving most problems with the digestive tract. The early settlers brought dill to North America with them, where it gained a reputation as "meetin' seed" because adults and children chewed on them to sweeten their breath and keep away hunger pangs and rumbling stomachs during the long sermons at Sunday services.
Despite its frail appearance, dill is a hardy annual native to the Mediterranean regions and southern Russia and is now widely cultivated throughout the world. Grow dill in rich well-drained soil where it will get lots of sun and be protected from strong winds. Dill likes to bask in the sun, but it will tolerate afternoon shade. Dill doesn't transplant well, often flowering prematurely. For best results, sow the seed in the spring straight into the garden where you want it to grow either by broadcasting thinly or in drills 9 inches or so apart and barely covering with sifted soil. Dill is considered a slow germinator, and it takes about three weeks for the seedlings to appear. It also grows well in containers, but ensure you have a deep enough one to accommodate the long roots dill sets. Don't plant dill near fennel because they cross-pollinate and the flavor of the offspring gets muddled and is mild to dull.
Dill has several varieties that essentially divide into two categories: those that are cultivated for leaf production and are slow bolt or those that are grown for seed production. For a continuous supply of leaves, cut the flowers off as soon as they appear, and to harvest seeds, let the flowers mature to seed heads. When the flower heads have turned brown, collect the ripened seeds by hanging the whole plant over a cloth or easily remove them with your fingers. The longevity of the seeds for germinating is three years.
When you hear the word dill, you might immediately think of pickles, but besides pickling cucumbers and gherkins, there are many culinary uses, and fresh dill will perk up almost any soup, salad or main dish. Add dill at the end of cooking, because heat will destroy much of its flavor. For a calming addition to your garden, plant this old standard.
Jane McLeod is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call the CSU Cooperative Extension office at 879-0825 or email to: firstname.lastname@example.org