For State by State Gardening magazine
Copyright© Jim Long, 2006
When you mention the word, "dill" most people think immediately of dill pickles. And while it's true, a cucumber in vinegar without dill is just a sour cucumber, dill is good for so many things beyond making pickles. You may have noticed that dill is used by florists for that fluffy, airy filler in summer bouquets. And that dill flowers, on their substantial stems, hold up really well as a cut flower and are sold through wholesale florist supply houses.
When I was in India doing research for a writing project, I was surprised to find dill being used in a variety of dishes. I had always associated dill with northern European foods, but it's a staple of Indian foods, although you're not likely to find a dill pickle in that country. There is is also considered a mildly medicinal herb, used as an aid for digestion and for preventing flatulence.
There are several kinds of dill and each one grows a bit differently and has different uses. For example, if you are growing dill for bouquets, the variety, 'Vierling' is the best to grow. It offers a striking combination of steel blue foliage and brilliant chartreuse blooms. It has very strong stems , grows three to four feet tall, and blooms early.
But if you want more leaves than flowers, the variety, 'Fernleaf' is a better choice. It has compact plants with multiple branches. It's shorter, growing only about eighteen inches high and is slow to bloom. You'll find 'Fernleaf' listed as 'Slow-bolt' in some catalogs.
Another dill that is slow to bloom is 'Dukat.' If you plan on using primarly the flavorful leaves more than the seed heads, then you will want a slow bolting variety so that you have dill weed for a longer period of time.
'Dukat' is one of the better dill varieties to dry for dill weed. Dry it in a warm, airy place, without light. An attic works, so does a food dehydrator, but don't use the microwave which will evaporate the plant's essential oils, which is where the flavor is.
The most common dill grown in most people's gardens is a variety usually sold as 'Bouquet." It produces harvestable leaves in about 50 days from planting and has seed for pickling use, in about 85-90 days. This one grows about thirty six inches high and blooms a bit earlier than the slow-bolt varieties.
How is dill grown? In the South you can plant dill seed in late fall or early winter. It's a cool season plant, so if the seed is planted early, it will germinate and grow when the conditions are best. Dill doesn't transplant well. While you can transplant it, the transplant never thrives as well as a seed that is planted where it will grow to maturity.
As soon as hot weather hits, dill begins going to seed. If you want dill weed over a longer period of time, it's best to do successive plantings through the spring, and to plant more than one variety. Try as you will, though, dill won't grow in the hottest part of summer.
Here's one of my favorite salads which uses fresh dill (called "dill weed.")
2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut in 1 inch pieces 2 cups, pineapple tidbits 1/2 cup sour cream 1/4 cup fresh dill leaf, diced slightly
Combine ingredients, mixing, then chill for at least an hour before serving. Serve 1/2 cup servings on top of lettuce leaves with a fresh dill leaf on top.
Another easy recipe using dill is this dill dip:
1 cup sour cream 1/2 cup mayonnaise, like Hellman's 2-3 drops Tobasco or similar hot sauce 2 drops Worchestershire sauce 1/4 cup fresh dill weed, chopped fine (or 1/8 cup dry) 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Combine ingredients and mix well. Chill for at least an hour, or overnight. Serve as a dip for fresh vegetables or chips.
Dill & Tomato Sandwich Spread one slice of bread with any good mayonnaise Spread the other slice of bread with a thick layer of whipped cream cheese Put a generous layer of fresh dill leaves over the cream cheese Top with sliced, ripe tomatoes, a lettuce leaf and thinly sliced cucumber.
Sources Nichols Garden Nurrsery 1190 Old Salem Rd., NE Albany, OR 97321 www.nicholsgardennursery.com
Johnny's Selected Seed www.johnnyseeds.com
Pinetree Garden Seeds P.O. Box 300 New Gloucester, ME 04260 www.superseeds.com
Richters Herbs Goodwood, Ontario LOC 1AO Canada www.Richters.com