Hooters Hall

Dill: to soothe and lull

Generally I tend to stick to growing perennial herbs rather than annuals or biennials but feathery dill with its tendency to enhance rather than dominate the flavours of many foods is one annual / biennial that it’s worth making an exception for. The name Dill comes from the Anglo Saxon dylle or the Norse dilla meaning to soothe and lull which presumably relates to the reported medicinal properties of Dill as a treatment for coughs, headaches and for calming infants with whooping cough.

I’m more interested in the culinary uses of herbs of which dill has many. Both the leaves and seed can be used so bolting/ running to seed isn’t a massive problem. The seeds are sharper and more pungent than the leaves though so you may need to adjust your quantities if substituting one for the other. You can also use the flower heads before they have set seed. Add the flower head to a jar of pickled gherkins, cucumbers or cauliflowers for a flavour somewhere between the leaf and seed. In the USA this is how dill pickles are made.

Dill Anethum graveolans resembles fennel but is more slender with a matte rather than shiny appearance. Ideally a well drained, neutral to slightly acid soil is best for growing dill. It can bolt easily so try to avoid overcrowding or planting in poor dry soils to reduce the chances of bolting. It is closely related to fennel and planting too close to fennel will lead to hybridized plants, intermediate in flavour and appearance. With regards to companion planting, dill is apparently beneficial to cabbage but not carrots. It does make a good neighbour to the veg patch though on account of the umbels of tiny yellow flowers which attract a lot of beneficial insects that prey on aphids. I’ve done a bit of research on predator attractant plants and yellow umbels do seem to be the best type of flower to bring in those helpful predators to the garden.

Dill is easily grown from seed sown in spring and summer. For a steady supply of leaves and to counter any unintended bolting make successive plantings every 3 – 4 weeks throughout the growing  season.  Staking is advisable to prevent damage to the feathery foliage and in hot weather make sure you keep it watered to try and avoid bolting. Dill can be easily grown in containers but to keep it at its best keep cutting back the foliage. Successive sowings also works well in containers and means you can let some plants bolt and run to seed so you can harvest seeds or the flower heads as well as the leaves.

There are several different varieties that you can choose to grow all with different habits.

  •  Anethum graveolans ‘Bouquet’ has a bushy habit, blue green leaves and compact prolific seed heads being considered the best for seed production.
  • Anethum graveolans ‘Dukat’ is vigorous and slow to bolt with finely flavoured blue green leaves.
  • Anethum graveolans ‘Fernleaf’ is a dwarf variety with darker foliage, it is slow to bolt and good for container growing reaching 45cm in height with a spread of 15-30cm.
  •  Anethum graveolans ‘Hercules’ is excellent for foliage with a great abundance of flavourful, long lasting leaves.
  • Anethum graveolans ‘Mammoth’ is best for pickling being very vigorous, with few leaves and running to seed easily producing large seed heads.

Here’s some pictures of seeds and those beautiful yellow umbels that the helpful garden predators find so attractive.

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