From the Herb Garden: Dill Does More Than Pickles

An ancient herb with a reputation for vigorous growth and strong odor, dill has numerous culinary and medicinal uses—way more than just pickles!

by Bevin CohenApril 2, 2021
PHOTO: Kathas_Fotos/Pixabay

Dill may immediately bring to mind a jar of crunchy, kosher pickles. But you can use this fine, feathery herb for far more than just flavoring cucumbers!

Native to western Asian and the eastern Mediterranean, dill has been a favored culinary and medicinal herb for thousands of years. Documented use of the herb can be found in an ancient Egyptian medical text believed to have been written around 3000 BCE. 

A member of the plant family Apiaceae, related to parsley and coriander, dill derives its modern name from the Norse word dylla, meaning ‘to soothe or lull’. This surely refers to the herb’s historical use in soothing stomach upset and digestive complaints.

Dill’s scientific name, Anethum graveolens, can tell us quite a bit about this pungent herb. The genus Anethum combines ano and theo, which together mean “upwards I run.”

The specific epithet graveolens roughly means “producing a weighty odor.” By combining these words, we learn that dill is a tall, vigorously growing plant that produces a notable aroma. 

Dill in the Kitchen

Dill is surely most well known for its use in making pickles, adding a fresh, spicy flavor and aroma to the cucumbers. But this versatile plant can also be enjoyed in myriad other dishes.

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The leaves and stems, often referred to as dillweed, can be used to flavor egg dishes, salads, vegetables and fish. The herb loses its signature flavor when dried, so be sure to use fresh dill whenever possible. 

The seeds of the herb are also quite useful to the culinarian. Use them to season vegetable dishes such as carrots, cabbage or winter squash. Their flavor tastes similar to caraway seeds and can serve as a substitution in breads or other baked goods.

Try infusing dill seeds in vinegar for a bright and flavorful condiment or salad dressing!

Read more: Grow culinary herbs for use in the kitchen—and the chicken coop!

Dill in the Apothecary

Dill has been prized by herbalists since antiquity for its healing qualities. The most common herbal medicinal crafted from the herb (and still used widely today)? A tea brewed from the seeds. 

Simply infuse two teaspoons of lightly crushed dill seed per cup of water, steeping the mixture for around 10 minutes. Drink three times daily to ease stomach upset, cramping and other digestive complaints. 

Dill is an antibacterial herb and can be used to brew a mouthwash to promote oral health, or the seed can simply be chewed to help freshen bad breath. This antibacterial action lends itself to topical uses for dill as well, most notably as a cleansing wash for minor wounds.

Dill seed extracts are also available on the market and are widely touted for their anti-aging, skincare benefits. 

Read more: These 5 herbs will help your skin stay healthy!

Growing Dill

Dill is as easy to grow as it is to enjoy! Plants prefer full sun but will tolerate a bit of shade.

Dill forms a substantial taproot and does not transplant well. So direct sow your seeds into the garden after last frost in the spring. 

Sow seeds about 1/2 inch deep and thin plants to a distance between 8 to 12 inches apart. This will ensure that your dill has plenty of space to bush out and produce lots of tasty leaves.

Consider sowing seeds every three to four weeks for a continual harvest! Dill will easily reseed itself if allowed, so keep a good eye on your plants.

Dill can be a wonderful companion plant for many of your favorite garden veggies. Growing dill alongside cabbages and other brassica crops will encourage growth of both crops. It can be planted with tomatoes as it makes an excellent trap-crop for tomato hornworms.

And if that’s not enough, pollinators absolutely love dill! Growing even a small patch of the herb will attract numerous bees and butterflies to your garden.

Harvest dillweed as needed throughout the season. Once the herb begins to flower, foliage production will slow down. Allowing your plants to mature will provide you with plenty of dill seed to use in all of your recipes. 

And don’t forget to set a bit of seed aside to plant again in next year’s garden!