Paige Day of North Augusta, S.C., is a home gardener and epicurean. She is a regular contributor to the Garden City Organics webzine.
 

 
 

The Real Dill
by Paige Day - posted 03/22/18

The yellow flowers of the dill plant are very beautiful in the garden.
 

Tall plants may need to be staked to keep them from blowing over. When the seedpods begin to brown, they are ready to harvest.
 

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are a great combination, but let’s not forget one herb that’s easy to grow and an extremely versatile addition to the garden: dill.

First and foremost, dill is an herb that gives the grower the benefit of a dual harvest. In the spring you can enjoy dill for its flavorful leaves that traditionally complement fish, cucumbers and potatoes. In the fall the seeds can be gathered to add their potent, celery-like flavor to hearty winter breads and stews, or used in pickling. With its versatility and fresh taste, gardeners just might find themselves adding dill to all of their recipes.

Dating back to biblical times, dill has been used for centuries in the culinary and medicinal worlds. Originating in Eastern Europe, dill surfaced in Russia, Western Africa and Scandinavia as well. The name comes from the Norse word dilla, which means to lull, as it was used to ease in digestion and to treat colic in babies.

Dill’s scientific name, Anethum graveolens, belongs to the Umbelliferae family, whose other members include parsley, cumin and carrots, to name a few. These plants are defined by their aromatic qualities and hollow stems. Because of dill’s close familial relationship to plants and herbs such as fennel and parsley, it is recommended that these not be planted together to avoid cross pollination.


In the Garden
Dill is a hardy annual that can reseed itself in some of the warmer parts of the country. Plant seeds in the spring after the last hard frost. Dill grows easily from seed, but likes to be seeded in cool weather.

Sow the seeds in rich, well-drained soil to a depth of 1/2 inch. Once the seedlings emerge, thin to 6 to 8 inches between each plant. Make sure to keep seedlings regularly watered. The hot sun can damage tender fledglings if they are allowed to get too dry.


Seedlings await transplant at the local feed and seed. Buyers should look for healthy transplants with thick stalks, free of any yellowing of the leaves.


Containers
If your window of opportunity for seeding has passed, or you are simply interested in adding dill to a container planting, transplants are readily available at most garden shops. Look for plants with a thick central stem and green, healthy leaves. Try to purchase plants that come in compostable pots, as dill has many fragile roots that can be damaged if handled roughly.

Dill’s wispy leaves make an elegant container planting when used alone, or can add height and interest to a container of thyme and oregano. Most herbs do well in containers, as they require limited amounts of space and thrive in well-drained soil.

Although dill is sold with directions to place in full sun, dill appreciates some afternoon shading in hotter regions. Landlocked gardens in Zone 8 or above would be well-advised to allow for some shade, as the sun can scorch the fragile leaves of the dill plant.


Dill seeds in various stages of ripening


Enjoy the Bounty
Dill leaves can be harvested as soon as the leaves emerge by pinching them between your fingers or snipping what you need with scissors. The leaves will add a fresh, green taste to your dishes, and its delicate flavor works well with subtle flavors such as fish or cream sauces. Try sautéing fresh dill with summer vegetables for a delicious change of pace.

Dill is most flavorful when used as a fresh herb, but it can also be dried for use throughout the winter. When drying dill, clip long stalks and tie together with kitchen twine, making a bouquet. Hang the dill in a cool, dry location until the leaves are dehydrated and brittle when rubbed between your fingers. The dry dill can then be placed in containers and kept for cooking.

To harvest dill seeds, allow the dill to flower and go to seed. The seeds will then be ready to harvest. Just remove the entire seed head and brush the seeds out onto a piece of wax paper. Seeds can be placed in jars for use in dill pickles, dilly beans and salad dressings.

 

 

Gravlax with accoutrements makes a beautiful display for a dinner party. This Swedish hor d’oeurves tastes similar to smoked salmon.

Gravlax
In the peak of dill season there is nothing more delicious than the culinary delight, gravlax. Gravlax is essentially cured salmon, and highlights the subtle flavor of dill. Similar in taste to smoked salmon, gravlax is easy to prepare and makes a stylish hors d’oeuvres when sliced thinly and served with bread rounds. Found in many fine dining restaurants, gravlax is easy to prepare at home and is a perfect beginning to a dinner party.

Ingredients:
• 1/3 cup kosher salt
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 3 teaspoons crushed peppercorn (any color will work, but pink or white are especially nice)
• 3 lb. fresh, high-quality salmon filet, skin removed
• A generous bunch of fresh dill

Directions:
Mix salt, sugar and peppercorn in a small bowl. Rub the fish with the seasoning, liberally covering all parts of the fish filet. Cover fish with dill sprigs. Wrap the fish in saran wrap and then cover with foil. Refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Fish will be cured and have a jerky-like texture. Slice thinly and serve with bread rounds, chopped hard-boiled egg, capers or finely chopped red onion.

 

A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 23 Number2.
Photography courtesy of Philip Oliver and Paige Day.

 

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