Dill, a native of the Mediterranean, belongs to the parsley family and has a long history of usage by humans. Today, growers cultivate dill in many parts of the world, with India and Pakistan having two of the largest commercial operations. Growers value two separate parts of the plant for their culinary and medicinal properties. The dill weed, or leaves, and the dill seed, which commonly refers to the plant's fruit.
The foliage or "weed" of the dill plant has a fernlike feathery appearance and a crisp sweet taste. The leaves find their way into many recipes for soups, sauces and salads as a flavoring. Most prominently, dill weed provides a key ingredient for a popular type of pickle. The weed may lose its flavor if cooked. For best results, use the leaves raw or add to a dish shortly before it finishes cooking. You can also make a tea from dill weed. Use dill weed as soon as possible after harvesting, if growing the plant in your garden.
Dill seed is not technically a seed. It's a fruit less than an inch long that separates into two halves, each containing one true seed. Dill seed has a more pungent flavor than the weed and finds use in pickling and as a seasoning. To harvest dill seeds, cut the flowerheads from the plant just as the fruit starts to turn tan, leaving some of the stalk connected to the seeds. Hang the stalks upside down in a dry area. When the fruits have dried, shake them off the stalk and place them in a spot away from heat and bright light in an airtight container. Under the proper conditions, they can last up to a year.
Dill seed has a long history of medicinal use. Practitioners use dill as a treatment for various stomach ailments, insomnia and as a mild diuretic. Chewing dill seeds has found acceptance among herbalists as a treatment for bad breath. Dill can also relieve flatulence. The name dill comes from Norse word meaning "to lull", which refers to the dill plant's anti-flatulence properties, according to Purdue University. Herbalists also use dill to promote lactation in nursing mothers and to help prevent colic in infants.
You can create a supply of fresh dill weed and dill seed by growing the plant in your garden. Select a well-drained, nutrient-rich site with a mildly acidic soil. Plant dill in a sunny spot that has protection from high winds. Grow dill from seeds -- true seeds not the fruit -- since it does not grow well when transplanted. Place the seeds about 1/4 inch into the soil. If planting in multiple rows, place the rows 2 feet apart. Keep the rows weed-free and use a 5-10-5 fertilizer annually in the spring, advises the University of Minnesota Extension.
Mark Pendergast has worked as a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on topics such as health, sports and finance. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and librarian and has written for the "Northside Sun" and "Jackpot," among other publications. Pendergast holds a Bachelor of Arts from Millsaps College.