Herbs

Dill Thrives in Cool Season

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.

Garden to Table: Roasted Fennel and Beet Salad with Tahini Herb Sauce

We are huge fennel fans here at the nursery. It’s a lovely vegetable and very versatile. Fennel is often sliced thin and eaten raw in salads or tossed in a creamy dressing and served as more of a slaw. When eaten raw, it’s crunchy, with a faint anise flavor, which is why I think some people shy away from it. Once it’s roasted or grilled, that anise flavor tames down and the fennel takes on a subtle, sweet flavor. The whole bulb, including the stalks and fronds are edible. I like to save the fronds for garnish and even sprinkle them on other dishes throughout the week. 

Parsley and Dill are also very good, versatile herbs that go well in sauces, soups, stews, salads and many other dishes that accompany this dish. Oh and we certainly cannot forego mentioning how all three of these herbs are great host plants for the black swallowtail buttery. Stop by the nursery to see our herb selection and more butterfly/herb gardening info. 

This recipe is what Elizabeth calls the "perfect winter salad" equipped with her favorite winter herbs and vegetables.

Ingredients:

For the salad:
2 medium-sized fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch wedges (save the fronds for garnish)
4 beets, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Pinch of black pepper
1 cup French green lentils, rinsed and picked over
2 tablespoons fennel fronds
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill

 

For the sauce:

1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons tahini
1/2 teaspoon local honey
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped dill
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

2. Toss the fennel and beets with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast in the oven until tender and lightly browned, about 25 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking.

3. While the vegetables are roasting, place the lentils in a saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the lentils are tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain and set aside.

4. Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl and whisk until smooth and creamy. Taste test and adjust seasonings if need be.

4. To serve, divide the lentils between 4 plates and top with the roasted vegetables. Drizzle with the sauce and garnish each plate with fennel fronds, parsley and dill. Season with additional salt and pepper.

Garden to Table: Herbal Infused Honey

The possibilities of herbal infusions for both health and flavor really are endless from basic tea to your favorite herbal/flower vinegar. You can use your fresh picked from the garden herbs in tea, honey, vinegar, aromatic pastes, cooking salts, mix up fragrant cocktails, etc. I love these herbal concoctions because they are simple, straightforward and a great way to concentrate and preserve herbs.

Below is a recipe for a herbal infused honey that can be used in tea, baking, marinades, salad dressing, drizzled over ice cream, fresh fruit or as a sweetener for your favorite summer tea or lemonade. Learn more ways to infuse herbs along with recipes, proper techniques, materials and storing methods at Elizabeth's Herbal Infusion Workshop. See our workshop calendar for upcoming classes. 

Lavender INFUSed honey

Ingredients:

Fresh or dried lavender leaves - if using fresh, make sure the herbs dry out from any excess water completely (see safety note below)
Honey (preferably raw honey from a local bee keeper)

Other herbs that lend well with honey include Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Basil, Sage, Peppermint, Texas Tarragon, Rosemary, and Thyme are just a few of the many options.

Equipment

Clean, dry jars and lids
Chopstick, wooden spoon handle, or other stirrer (avoid metal, which can scratch jars)
Clean cloth for wiping jar rims
Strainer

Method:

Fill a clean mason jar halfway with fresh herbs or a quarter full with dried herbs.

Top with honey, stir, and cap with a tight-fitting lid. Important that the herbs are completely submerged in honey. Wipe the jar rim with a clean cloth and cover tightly. Place in a sunny windowsill, and turn the jar over once per day. 

Tip: Label the jar with the contents and date so you don't forget!

Allow to infuse for a week or longer, then strain once the desired flavor has been achieved. The longer the honey sits the more fragrant and flavorful it becomes.

Strain the honey into a clean jar. Seal tightly and use within one year. 

See the Food Safety Site on the safety ratings of infusing honey at home.