Harvest dill seeds from mature plants after the flowers set seeds. The flower umbrels become clusters of seeds that cling to the plant until they are completely mature. Snip off the seed heads when the seeds are brownish and dry before the seeds scatter. Hold a bag or large bowl under the heads and snip – let the seed heads drop into the container.
Dill prefers full sun in well-drained soil. It grows easily from seed in U. S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10. Sow seeds 1/4 inch deep in loose soil in the early spring. Make successive sowings every two to three weeks for a continuous supply. Successive sowings allow you to let the early plants mature so you can use the seeds when cucumbers are ready to pickle. Later plantings give you a supply of fresh dill weed throughout the season. In desert areas, plant dill in late summer and early fall to avoid extreme heat. Water newly planted dill to aid germination, and irrigate occasionally throughout the season to keep the soil from completely drying out. As seedlings grow, thin them to stand about 18 inches apart. An easy way to grow dill is to allow it to reseed directly in the garden.
Common dill (Anethum graveolens) has naturalized in North America after its introduction from its native southwestern Asia. Dill is easy to grow, lending textural visual interest to the garden with its 3- to 4-ft tall, feathery foliage and 6-inch wide umbrels of bright yellow flowers. Dill foliage is food for black swallowtail caterpillars, so it is recommended as a host plant in butterfly gardens. But dill really shines in the kitchen. The sweetly pungent flavor is concentrated in both the leaves and the seeds, making dill a popular herb for a wide range of culinary uses. Dill weed is simply another name for dill foliage.
Shake the dry dill seeds from the stems into a bowl, sorting out the stems for disposal. Store dried dill weed and dill seeds in airtight containers in the cupboard.
Wash fresh dill weed and drain it dry, chop it, then freeze it in small containers or freeze it flat on a baking sheet to transfer to small containers. To dry dill weed, loosely tie together a few branches at the base with string or a rubber band and hang the bundles upside-down in an airy location out of direct sun. Bruising the branches can cause spots of decay or mold, so handle the dill gently. You can also use an electric dehydrator to dry dill weed quickly. A dehydrator helps the dried leaves retain the bright green color of fresh dill.
Young dill plants that you thin from the garden are ideal to chop for tender, fresh dill weed. Although you can trim dill foliage at any time to use fresh, the leaves have the best flavor just before the umbrels bloom. Trimmed dill continues to grow new leaves until the plant blooms, so you can repeat harvest the foliage.
Is dill an herb or spice? It’s both. Herbs are leaves, so dill weed is an herb. Legendary as a flavoring for fish, dill weed is excellent in soups and stews, dips and sauces, and to flavor vegetables, rice and omelets. Dill seeds are considered a spice because they are parts of the plant that are not leaves. Use ground or whole seeds to flavor dill pickles and to make flavored vinegar, and add them to sauerkraut, breads and rolls, cakes and cole slaw. Dill seeds add zip to roasted root vegetables, and they add sweet pungency to curry powder. Dill weed also makes a lovely foliage substitute for ferns in flower arrangements. It lends aroma as well as color, and lasts several days in a vase of water.
If dill weed is being used as a garnish for a dish, use fennel fronds instead. They look very similar. Fresh parsley can also be used as a garnish. It looks a bit different, but will still add that pop of green. If you don’t have either, just leave the garnish off, or get creative with whatever you have on hand.
Dill weed is sometimes also referred to as dill leaves. It’s the bright green, feathery fronds of the dill plant. It’s highly aromatic, and tastes of caraway or anise, with a bit of citrus thrown in.
Substituting fresh dill for dried dill (or vice versa) is easy to do. Just stick to these proportions, and you’ll get great results:
Substituting Other Herbs
Dill is incredibly easy to grow, so consider adding it to your garden. It's an annual, but it reseeds readily. Just allow some of the flowers to go to seed at the end of the season, and it should come up on its own next year.
When fresh dill is being used to flavor a recipe (as it is in pickles, soups, and sauces), use fresh tarragon in its place. To make the proper substitution, use an equal amount of fresh tarragon for the fresh dill, or dried tarragon for the dried dill. You can also use dried tarragon as a stand-in for fresh dill weed, but you’ll need to adjust the quantities, as it has a more intense flavor. Use one teaspoon of dried tarragon for every tablespoon of fresh dill called for in a recipe. Tarragon works well as a substitute for dill in seafood dishes and in salad dressings.
Dried vs. Fresh
Working on a recipe that calls for dill weed or dill seed? If you don’t have any on hand, there are several things that you can use in its place, including other forms of dill, tarragon, celery seed or caraway seed. Here’s how to make a successful substitution, using what you have on hand.
Dill seeds taste similar to dill weed, but they have a slightly bitter edge to them. They appear frequently in pickles, bread, salad dressing, and soup recipes. While you might be tempted to use dill weed as a substitute for dill seeds, you'll get better results if you use caraway seeds or celery seeds in their place. Replace them measure for measure, and you should come close to the intended flavor.