Dill is an herb that has been around for a very very long time. It was first recorded in Egypt over 5,000 years ago. The Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans also grew dill. The Greeks were particularly creative using it as a perfume, to flavor wine, to treat wounds, and as a way to gain courage. Dill even makes an appearance in some versions of the Bible (Matthew 23:23). In more recent history dill seeds were chewed during church services and meetings to keep people awake, earning them the name “meetinghouse seeds”.
Medicinal use of dill, as a pain killer, was first recorded by the Egyptians in 1,500 B.C. The Ancient Greeks used it as a digestive aid and a remedy for gas. It has also been used historically to treat colicky babies and help people sleep. Recent studies support Dill as a digestive aid. Dill has even found a place in folklore, both as protection from and use in witchcraft. It has also been used as an ingredient in love potions.
Culinary, Dill is well known around the world. It is particularly popular in German, Scandinavian, and Russian cooking. It also makes an appearance in dishes from Sri Lanka, India, and the Middle East. Dill was likely brought to the Americas by early settlers.
As a plant, dill is in the same family as parsley, cilantro, fennel, and carrots. Some of its more poisonous relatives include Queen Anne’s lace and hemlock. Dill is an annual although it is sometimes grown as a biennial. It is native to the Mediterranean and is available to home gardeners in a number of varieties. Common varieties include Bouquet, Fernleaf, Mammoth, and Vierling.
Size: Dill can grow to reach about 3ft (91cm) tall, but dwarf varieties are available.
Water Requirements: Dill will grow best in soil that is kept moist but not water logged.
Soil Requirements: Dill needs soil that has adequate drainage. It does the best in soil that has a pH range of 5.0 – 8.2.
Light Requirements: Dill is happiest when grown in full sun, but will tolerate part shade.
Temperature Requirements: Dill grows well in temperatures ranging from 42-79°F (6 – 26°C). It is considered to be a cool weather crop.
Nutrient Requirements: Dill can benefit from being fertilized, but nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer can affect how much the plant grows and what it tastes like, for better or for worse.
Pruning: Pinch back flowers to keep dill from bolting if you are growing dill for its leaves. You may find it necessary to stake taller stalks to keep them from tipping over.
Pests: The major problems of dill are aphids and root rot.
Companion Planting: Dill is a good companion plant for cabbage. It repels aphids and spider mites, and possibly squash bugs. In addition to cabbage dill does well with lettuce, onions, and cucumbers. Dill attracts tomato horn worms so keep it away from tomatoes. It also competes with members of the same family so don’t plant it near carrots or caraway.
Harvesting and Use: The best time to harvest dill leaves is in the morning. They are typically used fresh but can be dried as well. They are common as garnishes, in potato salads, and on fish. Dill seeds are harvested when they have turned a golden brown color. The seeds can be added to fish, vegetables, and sauces. Dill is also used to make Dill pickles.
Interesting Information: Dill is a host plant for Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.
The Herb Society of America Dill Guide – Everything you ever wanted to know about dill. Includes a handful of recipes too.
The National Gardening Association Plant Care Guide – General info and care instructions for dill.
Golden Harvest Organics – Companion plant information
Wikipedia Apiaceae Entry – General information about the Apiaceae family