Dill is a useful herb, but many people struggle to grow it

Ted Manzer column logo

ted manzer


By Ted Manzer

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Everyone has eaten dill pickles, by themselves or in salads or sandwiches. Some love them and some may not, but dill is a spice often overlooked.

Many folks try to grow it in their herb gardens with varied success. One reason many might have problems is that dill plants don’t transplant very well. This herb has a long taproot, and plants with this type of root system usually don’t respond to being moved. It’s usually best to plant them directly from seed.

This is true for many plants, but gardeners, especially beginners like the instant effect of planting seedlings. Success is also much better for cilantro, anise and fennel when they are planted from seed. Basil and oregano transplant easily.

Plant your dill in full sun on moist well-drained soil. Wait until soil temperatures are at least 60 degrees or germination might be poor. Sow the seeds about a quarter-inch deep and thin plants to 12-18 inches apart when they are a few inches tall. It’s often advantageous to make successive plantings every two to three weeks to get a constant supply of young healthy plants.

There seems to be considerable argument as to whether dill is an annual or a perennial herb. It’s an annual, but in mild winters mother plants often return. In harsher winters plants still re-seed themselves readily. Therefore, there is always a constant supply of seedlings, but transplanting can be challenging.

Once established, dill is easy to maintain. Cutting plants back frequently will keep them from going to seed. This will also keep the herb garden looking neat. Plants will grow indoors or in partial shade but are healthier if established in full sun.

Dill is used in countless recipes. Pickles might be what people think about, but it has been one of the most commonly used herbs for centuries. Hundreds of recipes use it. It’s also a great addition to a salad, and I love it in both egg and potato salads.

Both seeds and foliage have that similar dill smell and flavor, but the seeds have a stronger taste. When plants are young, the aroma is like anise.

Nutritionally, dill is loaded with things the body needs. It’s very high in potassium and very low in sodium. It’s also high in calcium, magnesium and fiber. Vitamins A and C are in good supply as are flavonoid antioxidants.

Unlike cilantro, dill is easy to dry and doesn’t lose much of its flavor when dried. If dried and stored in a cool dry place it has a long shelf life.

Aside from culinary uses, dill is an important medicinal herb. It’s included in many holistic medicines to treat a variety of ailments, mostly digestive disorders. It also has been used to lower blood sugar.

Oil from dill plants has antimicrobial properties and is used topically to help heal wounds. It’s also a muscle relaxant and sedative. Dill oil is a mild diuretic, so potentially it could cause dehydration in large amounts. Everything considered, dill is a lot more than pickle flavoring.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.