Dill has been popular as an herb for thousands of years in many cultures. An annual herb in temperate climates, it is actually a biennial or perennial in warmer areas, like that of the Mediterranean basin where it appears to have originated. Dill, or Anethum graveolens, is recognized this year as the 2010 Herb of the Year by the International Herb Association.

I always grew the cultivar 'Bouquet', figuring I wanted a small, tidy bouquet of dill growing in a container. Wrong! 'Bouquet' is one of the talantique illustration of dill head and seedler cultivars, but the it's the one I have found most often available on the racks of the garden center. This year I'm trying 'Fernleaf' instead, which is supposed to be a foot or two shorter and to direct its energy more toward foliage production instead of seeds.

Dill is in the same aromatic family as parsley, carrots, fennel, Queen Anne's Lace and poison hemlock! Many of these plants (parsley, carrots, parsnips, for instance) are used for cooking and their feathery light foliage is fragrant, if not flavorfull. (Of course, some, like poision hemlock, should not be ingested, ever!) Like many of the others, dill is usually grown as an annual, although most of this group of plants will self-seed if allowed to bloom and may be biennial.

I grow dill for the foliage, technically referred to as dillweed. Dill is good with fish, potatoes, dip, salad, cucumbers, flavored vinegars, etc. And of course once it flowers (also called bolting), the flowers are covered with hundreds of seeds, which lend their flavor to dill pickles. I am not a big dill pickle eater, so when I grow dill, I pinch, pinch, pinch to try to postpone flowering. Apparently dill's huge flower heads are also used in flower arranging—I'm always busy trying to pretend it's not flowering and snipping off one last salad's worth of foliage to have realized the visual impact of the flower. The flavor of dill weed has been described as a combination of anise, citrus, mint and parsley. I'll have to think that one over.

Dill is said to prefer a rich, moist soil and full sun. Some people report slow germination, although since I winter sowed mine, I didn't notice. As you might expect of close relative of the carrot, dill has a long tap root and may resent being transplanted as anything larger than a small plant; you may have better luck with sowing seeds where they are to grow or buying dill in biodegradable pots. Dill seed is sometimes ground or pressed to produce dill oil, which is a highly concentrated source of dill flavor, and often used in commercial pickle making. (Who knew?)

So whether you grow dill as a larval host plant for Eastern Swallowtail butterflies, as a tall, attractive, back of the border plant, as a source for gourmet herbs for cooking, as a pungent addition to a fragrance garden, or to collect seeds for pickling, dill deserves a place in your garden and definitely is worthy of its title as 2010 Herb of the Year!

THANK YOU TO LilyLover_UT for the photo in the thumbnail of dill foliage.

BOUQUETquite tall (36" +) and produces many seeds
FERNLEAFsmaller, grown for foliage, slow to bolt, pinch to increase bushiness and foliage production, good for containers
DUKATtall, needs staking, very fragrant, large seed heads
"favorite of commercial growers" source of both dillweed and seeds
SARIsource of dillweed

used for cut flowers as well as as an herb, early flowering.

HERCULEStall, slow to flower.
SUPERDUKAThigh in aromatic oil, grown for foliage