To most Americans, dill weed is invariably paired with pickles. It is no wonder since Americans alone consume more than nine pounds of pickles per person each year. In Europe and Asia, dill has long been a staple herb. Where would seafood be without the crisp flavor of dill?
Botanically known as Anethum graveolens, dill weed is a member of the parsley family. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and western Asia. The word dill comes from the old Norse word dylla, meaning to soothe or lull. It dates back in writing to about 3000 B.C., where it was mentioned in Egyptian medical texts.
The leaves, flowers, and oval flat seeds of the dill plant are all edible. The plant has thin, feathery green leaves, of which only about the top eight inches are used.
It is very easy to grow at home in the garden or in containers. (If you grow your own, be aware that the mature seeds are toxic to birds.)
Dill weed has a flavor likened to mild caraway or fennel leaves. The plant is, in fact, often mistaken for the feathery fronds of fennel.
Fresh and dried dill leaves (sometimes called “dill weed” to distinguish it from dill seed) are widely used as herbs in Europe and central Asia.
Like caraway, the fernlike leaves of dill are aromatic and are used to flavor many foods such as gravlax (cured salmon) and other fish dishes, borscht and other soups, as well as pickles (where the dill flower is sometimes used). Dill is best when used fresh as it loses its flavor rapidly if dried; however, freeze-dried dill leaves retain their flavor relatively well for a few months.
Dill seed, having a flavor similar to caraway but also resembling that of fresh or dried dill weed, is used as a spice. Dill oil is extracted from the leaves, stems and seeds of the plant. The oil from the seeds is distilled and used in the manufacturing of soaps.
Dill is the eponymous ingredient in dill pickles: cucumbers preserved in salty brine and/or vinegar.