Dill is relatively unused in Britain, but commonly used in central and eastern Europe. Whatever one thinks about dill as a herb, it's certainly one of the most physically attractive of all the spices.
Dill plants in flower
Fresh dill leaves
Dried dill leaves
Ripening dill fruits (often incorrectly named "dill seeds")
Dried dill fruits
Dill is native to Central Asia. The related species anethum sowa, grown in India, has fruits that are larger but less fragrant. Most imported dill originates from Egypt, other Mediterranean countries or Eastern Europe.
Both the dried fruits (frequently misnamed "dill seeds") and the fresh or dried aerial parts "dill weed" are used. Fresh dill herb is much more aromatic than dried dill herb.
Apiaceae (parsley family).
The common name "dill" is probably related to Old Norse dilla "calm" or "soothe", as a result of dill having been used as an antiflatulent to relieve stomach pain in babies. An alternative root for the word is the German dolde "umbel". The term "dill" is found with almost no variation in all Germanic languages and has been loaned to some non-Germanic languages, e.g. Finnish tilli, Estonian till, Latvian dilles and Gaelic dile.
Most Slavonic tongues share a common name for dill, e.g. Bulgarian kopur, Ukrainian krip, Russian ukrop, Slovak kôpor, Polish koper and Czech kopr. These names derive from a Common Slavonic root kapr "dill", probably related to Lithuanian kvapas "smell" or "aroma" and kvepia "be fragrant". The Slavonic names have entered some non-Slavonic tongues as loanwords, e.g. Albanian kopër, Hungarian kapor, Lithuanian krapas and Yiddish krop. The Romanian term mărar probably arose by confusion with fennel, which is called maratho in Modern Greek.
The botanical genus name anethum derives from Greek anēson which also gave rise to the name anise. Species name graveolens means "strongly smelling" from Latin gravis "grave" and olens "smelling" (from the verb olere).
Names in most Romance tongues derive from Latin anethum, e.g. Italian aneto and French aneth. An Iberic variant of the name, perhaps Portuguese endro, was transferred to several Eastern languages including Malay ender, Japanese inondo and Korean inondu. The French name fenouil bâtard "bastard fennel" and Dutch stinkende vinke "stinking fennel" indicate a traditional opinion that the plant is inferior to fennel. German gurkenkraut "cucumber herb", which dill shares with borage, is motivated by the herb's frequent use in cucumber dishes in German cuisine.
The characteristic, sweet taste of dill is popular across Europe and Western, Central and Southern Asia. In Europe, it is mostly used for bread, vegetables (especially cucumber), pickles and fish, and dill is indispensable for herb-flavoured vinegars.
In North-Eastern Europe and Russia, fresh dill is popular for pickled vegetables, which are produced in great variety either by pickling in vinegar or by lactic fermentation. In regions with long, cold winters, preserved vegetables are an important source of vitamins and fresh flavour for the otherwise dull winter diet.
Fresh dill leaf "dill weed" is a national spice in Scandinavian countries, where fish or shellfish dishes are usually either directly flavoured with dill or served together with sauces containing dill. German cooks also tend to use dill mostly for fish soups and stews. Dill reached the Northern latitudes probably via medieval monasteries, where it was grown as a medicinal herb in accordance with the edict of Charlemagne, the Capitulare de Villis.
Dill has retained its popularity in its original Asian homeland. Dried dill is important in Georgia's famous spice mixture khmeli-suneli and is also popular in Iran, mainly for boiled beans. In India, dried dill fruits are occasionally used to flavour the lentil and bean dishes known as dhals.
A related species a. sowa grown in India has fruits that are larger but less fragrant. It is cited in local recipes, with the result that care must be taken with quantities when translating Indian recipes and substituting dill.