Dill weed is an herb best known for providing its aromatic taste to dill pickles, but there are many other uses. Flavoring vinegars, spicing up salads, and garnishing fish are only a few tasty uses for dill weed. Specifically, dill weed is the feathery leaves of the dill plant. Whether you use it fresh, dried, or frozen, dill weed is well worth adding to your garden.
Step 1 - Choose the Right Time to Harvest
While the dill plant is technically an annual, its leaves can be harvested any time during the season once the plant grows enough to have four to five leaves on it. Some say the flavor is best if the leaves are harvested just as the flowers bloom. Others say the best flavor is found in the young leaves that are a paler green. However, it's the dark green, older leaves that are traditionally called dill weed.
Step 2 - Water Before Harvesting
Water the dill plant the day before harvesting, being sure to clean the leaves. This will hydrate the plant and clean the leaves, allowing for one less step after it is picked.
It's better that the leaves get their hydration in this way, as excessive moisture after harvesting can lead to quick wilting.
Step 3 - Cut the Leaves
The best time to harvest is in the morning. Remove the leaves at the stem either by cutting them with a pair of sharp, clean scissors or by pinching them free with your fingers.
Do not remove all the leaves from a single plant at the same time or you will inhibit the plant's ability to continue to grow. If you only take a few leaves at a time, you should be able to continue to harvest each plant until the flowers go to seed. The more you harvest the longer the plant will resist flowering and going to seed.
Keep in mind that you will want the seeds eventually, either for seasoning or to grow more dill plants next spring.
Alternately, you can cut the whole stem and remove the leaves after preservation. This method is good for only a single harvest. While this may seem shortsighted, using the entire plant including the stem, leaves, and flowers is actually a common technique for flavoring dill pickles.
Preserving Dill Weed
Dill weed can be used fresh and is often considered to exhibit its best flavors under these conditions. However, to ensure a steady supply of dill year round, preserve some of the leaves by either drying or freezing them.
To dry dill weed, you can either air dry the leaves or microwave them. For the former, dry the leaves either on a drying rack or hang them in bunches. For the latter, place the leaves on a paper towel in the microwave and run it on high for three minutes. This method should preserve the flavor better. Whichever method you choose, when the leaves are dry, crumble them and seal them in an air tight container for later use.
Dry dill loses much of its flavor, so freezing is the preservation method of choice. Place sprigs of dill leaves in a small plastic bag and freeze them whole. Make sure the sprigs are dry of any surface moisture before you freeze them.
Alternately, you can crumble the leaves and place them in a small ice cube tray. Add fresh water and freeze the cubes. A sprig or a cube can be added to a dish much as a fresh sprig would be. Your frozen dill will be good for several months.