Dill, with its lacy blue-green foliage and showy umbrellas of yellow flowers, is an attractive addition to the herb and butterfly garden as well as a cut flower for arrangements. It is a cool season annual herb whose aromatic, delicate-tasting leaves will enhance a variety of your favorite foods.
Dill grows best if seeds are planted early in the fall, about two months before frost. Depending on the variety it can grow up to 3 feet tall in moist soil with good drainage and full sun. Yellowish green flowers electrify the garden in the first warm days of spring and then set seed. If you want to have dill throughout summer, it is possible to plant successive crops every few weeks, but because of the heat it will rapidly bolt to seed.
Dill, like parsley, is also an asset in the butterfly garden. Black swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on the foliage and the caterpillars will munch on the leaves before turning into those beautiful creatures you see floating overhead. Watching the butterflies in late spring fluttering atop of the yellow flower heads and blue green foliage paints a graceful springtime picture in my yard.
For culinary use, you can harvest dill foliage anytime from seedling stage until the plant blooms. The leaves will last only a couple days in the refrigerator before they start to droop and lose flavor. Dill leaves are best enjoyed fresh but they can be frozen in water or stock, dried, or if refrigerated, stored in butter or oil. For harvesting the seeds collect them when they first turn brown, or they will soon drop off. Cut the seed head halfway down the stalk, and hang it upside down in a paper bag in a dry, well-ventilated place. After the seeds drop into the bag, store them in an airtight container or preserve them along with it’s foliage in white vinegar for the next pickling season.
The principal flavoring in dill pickles, but this herb also has many more culinary uses to offer. You can use its feathery leaves to flavor salads, sauerkraut, sandwiches, boiled vegetables (potatoes, cabbage, green beans), cream cheeses, vinegars and sauces. I love using fresh dill leaves in a creamy lemon sauce to dip my baked sweet potato fries. Or you can harvest the seed and use whole or ground in longer-cooking recipes like soups, beans, stews or even bread.