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

Everyone has eaten dill pickles, by themselves or in salads or sandwiches. Some love them and some may not, but dill (Anethum graveolens) 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 a 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.

young dill seedlings ready to plant


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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5 Responses to Dill is a useful herb, but many people struggle to grow it

  1. tonytomeo says:

    This is something that I really would not have guessed would be difficult to grow. it naturalized here decades ago, and used to be quite common. Nowadays, it grows only on the edges of riparian zones.

    • tedmanzer says:

      It’s easy from seed, but most people try to transplant seedlings, because they want an instant garden. That’s where they struggle.

      • tonytomeo says:

        Well that makes sense, but is something I never would have thought of. I had never planted it either way, just because it is always out in the neighborhood somewhere if I ever need it.
        There had been times when the dill is ready when the vegetables that were to be pickled with it were not, so we made the brine ahead of time, and because it was brine, it lasted just fine. We made it concentrate, and added water when we actually used it. That poor dill got pickled twice!

  2. abby millager says:

    Just let it go to seed once and you’ll be ripping it out forever! It makes a lovely filler, coming up between all the other plants–like baby’s breath in a bouquet.

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