Harvesting and Preserving Dill
by Stephanie Wrightson, SCMG
If you allow dill to flower, leaf production will cease; when it sets seed, the plant dies. Therefore, plan your dill harvest based on whether you want to use fresh dill in recipes, preserve leaves (dill weed) and/or preserve seed.
Dill weed: Characteristic aroma is an indicator of fresh herb quality. You can use dill weed once the fern-like leaves develop (about 8 weeks); cut them next to the stem. However, peak quality is just as flower heads open. Culinary quality of dill declines after cutting; if possible, cut just what you need when you need it.
Dill seeds: After flowering, allow the seed heads to dry on the plant. The entire seed head can be cut when the seeds are a pale brown.
Fresh dill weed:
Dried dill weed and seeds:
- Pick for leaf harvest just before flowers open. This is when the leaves contain the highest concentration of oils.
- The day before harvesting leaves, spray them with water so that they will be clean and dry the day of harvest.
- The day of leaf harvest, pick dill in the early morning or place stems in water for two hours.
- Strip damaged lower leaves and remove any flower heads (unless you are harvesting seeds as described below).
- Use kitchen string or a rubber band to loosely combine the stems into small bundles. Do not bunch herbs tightly or it may encourage mold as they are drying.
- Hang the bunches upside down in a dark warm dry place with good air circulation. This preserves the essential oils, which, in turn, preserves the flavor.
- The herbs are ready when all of the moisture is gone and they are crisp enough to crumble (one to two weeks in most cases).
- As an alternative to hanging the herbs, herbs may be dried in the oven. Set the oven at the lowest temperature possible (ideally 110ºF or less). Spread the herbs out on a baking sheet…don’t crowd them. With the oven door partly open, monitor the herbs closely. Herbs are ready when they are crisp enough to crumble. If you use a dehydrator or solar dryer, follow the manufacturer’s directions.
- If you are gathering seeds from flower heads, use the hanging method above and loosely secure a paper bag over the flower heads to collect the seed before hanging, or place a clean cloth under the drying herbs. Note: Some people loosely cover all drying herbs with paper bags in order to catch any falling leaves and/or to protect the herbs if they are being dried in a dusty attic or garage.
- Seeds, whole leaves removed from the stem or crushed leaves should be stored in airtight glass jars (preferably in brown glass) and kept in a cool, dry cupboard out of the light.
- Inspect jarred herbs after the first week. If there is condensation in the jar, remove the leaves for further drying.