Dill and fennel often get confused for one another because, if you’re looking only at the greens, they’re both delicate, feathery light leaves. They’re both commonly featured in Mediterranean cuisines but they are not at all the same plant.
So what’s the difference between fennel and dill? Fennel is a perennial plant that is totally edible, including the leaves and seeds. The stalks and bulbs are crunchy and slightly sweet, with flavor notes of anise. Dill is an aromatic herb that is typically used to flavor other foods, like dill pickles.
We’re going to take a look at all these differences and answer some of your most frequently asked fennel and dill questions in this article.
What is Fennel?
Fennel is a perennial plant native to the Mediterranean coast but now popularly grown nearly world-wide. It’s a member of the carrot family.
When the stalks or bulbs are eaten raw, they’re crunchy and slightly sweet, with the unmistakable flavor of anise, or black licorice.
Everything about the plant is edible, not limited to the bulb and stalk but also including the leaves and seeds, where the flavor is even more pronounced.
Wild fennel is generally considered an invasive plant because it tends to grow wild, for lack of a better term, so if you’re an avid forager, this is one plant you can feel welcome to help yourself to.
Since you can use the entire plant, there are numerous ways to prepare fennel, using the bulb, the stalks, leafy fronds, and seeds or all of the above together.
The stalks and bulb can be sautéed with other vegetables for flavor, and it can also be eaten raw for a gorgeous bite to your salads or sandwiches.
The leaves look and taste fantastic in salads or as an edible garnish or blended into a dip, dressing or sauce. Fennel goes particularly well with fish.
Here are a few recipe ideas for you to explore as you begin to consider ways to try fennel for yourself:
- Fennel slaw or, at least, fennel with your coleslaw
- Salads with fennel, especially a fennel dill salad
- Sauteed or poached fish with fennel
- Fennel soup
- Fennel pasta
While you probably shouldn’t try making this yourself, fennel is one of the key ingredients in the slightly controversial spirit, absinthe.
How to make fennel tea
Fennel tea is one of the easiest ways to enjoy the licorice flavor of fennel and it’s been shown to improve digestion, so it’s a great after-dinner drink. For tea, you’ll be working with the fennel seeds.
To release more of their nutritional benefits, spoon out 1 – 2 teaspoons of whole seeds on a cutting board and crush them carefully with the flat edge of a chef’s knife. You can add the crushed seeds directly to your teapot or if you have a loose-leaf tea strainer, you can use that.
For each teaspoon, use 1 cup of boiled water that has been cooled for at least 5 minutes before pouring over your seeds. Let it steep for 2 – 3 minutes and enjoy! If you’d like to sweeten your tea, try honey or orange juice for natural sweetness and a great flavor pairing.
What is Dill?
One of the facts about dill that surprises most people is that it’s native to Russia, as well as parts of Africa and the Mediterranean.
It’s quite easy to grow, so it’s common around the world now, but it’s heavily featured in German, Scandinavian and Greek cuisines.
It is considered an herb, and both its leaves and the seeds of the weed are used for flavoring foods.
If you’ve ever had a dill pickle, you’re familiar with the dill taste, a unique combination of citrusy sweet and sometimes just slightly bitter. It’s highly aromatic and the smell very much enhances the flavor.
I personally use the freeze-fried dill from Litehouse. I like to add it to salads and homemade salad dressings.
Dill Leaves Recipes
Dill’s most iconic role is without doubt dill pickles. Cucumber and dill are amazing together, not just as pickles but also in salads and the Greek dip or sauce, Tzatziki.
If you start to think beyond the cucumber, however, you’ll realize that many dishes will be elevated to the next level of culinary delight by adding dill.
Here are a few ideas for you to consider:
- Lemon and Dill Chicken, either sautéed or in a cream sauce
- Roasted Potatoes and root vegetables with dill and rosemary
- Creamy spinach and dill dip
- Any fresh salad, especially with a drizzle of lemon and a sprinkle of feta
- Cooked with your grains, such as quinoa or rice
- Potato salad
- Grilled or breaded fish with a spritz of lemon and dill rubbed into the fish
If it isn’t clear yet, dill is delicious in almost any setting, so if you’re looking for a way to spice up an old family favorite recipe, try adding dill.
Health Benefits of Fennel and Dill
Almost all plants have a lot of health benefits to them, and fennel and dill are no exception. Both these unique and flavorful plants play interesting roles in keeping your body free from toxins and toxic damage.
All parts of the fennel plant are edible, and each element has unique concentrations of vitamins and minerals. It’s packed with powerful antioxidants called polyphenols and flavonoids which are particularly good at repairing almost any type of damage in your body.
Fennel is a great source of key essential minerals that we don’t hear much about, such as molybdenum. Molybdenum’s main responsibility in your body is to remove toxins and a 1 cup serving of fennel will provide you with 10% of your RDI, along with copper, manganese, folate, and many other vitamins and minerals.
The combination of nutrients can improve your cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and generally protect your heart against disease as well as many other benefits.
Benefits of Dill
Dill has phytonutrients called flavonoids and monoterpenes which are both known to protect against damaging free radicals.
More interestingly, certain compounds can actually neutralize certain carcinogens, like cigarette smoke. This is certainly not an encouragement to start smoking, but if you find yourself exposed to smoke of any kind on a regular basis, it’s a great incentive to start eating more dill.
Though you don’t generally use much in a serving, for its size, dill is also a good source of calcium and fiber and has a range of vitamins and minerals that are great for your health.
It’s also quite antibacterial and specifically helps stop bacterial overgrowth, which is great for those suffering from candida or other similar conditions.
Traditionally, dill was used to help soothe and relax, which works equally well for digestive distress and insomnia.
Nutritional Comparison: Fennel vs Dill
|Per 1 Cup, Raw Chopped
|Daily Value (DV)
|Daily Value (DV)
The bulb of fennel is a vegetable whereas dill is considered an herb. You can see the differences in their nutrition, especially in terms of carbohydrates.
While fennel bulb is a very low-carb vegetable, it’s leaves and seeds are more comparable to dill, which is almost no-carb, being such a light herb.
They’re both very nutritious and a great addition to your eating plan, so there’s no reason to choose one over the other if you ever have the option of choosing both.
Can you eat fennel stalks?
Yes, you can eat fennel stalks and all the other parts of the plant including the bulb and feathery green fronds as well.
You can cook the stalks in almost any way you’d like, but they’re particularly great with fish or used as a flavoring for soup stalk. You can even juice your fennel stalks for a slight licorice taste to your favorite drink!
Is growing dill in pots easy?
Growing dill in pots is surprisingly easy! With dill, the number one thing to keep in mind is that they like to have space for their roots to grow nice and long, so you’ll want pots that are lengthy rather than wide Ideally, you’d find a container about 1 – 2 feet tall.
You can then use any soilless mix designed for potting and make sure you have drainage holes. Dill loves warm sunshine, but nothing too extreme.
Once it’s planted, all you need to do to care for your dill is mist it with some water now and then.
If you want, you can transplant your dill into your regular garden once the seedlings have grown to be a few inches high. In your garden, you simply care for the dill as you would the rest of your plants.
When to harvest dill for pickling?
If you love to pickle, you may find yourself growing dill specifically for this purpose. Of course, nothing is stopping you from also picking the tender green leaves for daily cooking and saving the seeds to dry as well.
When you’re harvesting dill with the intent to use for pickling vegetables, you’ll want to pick your dill about 2 weeks after they first start to flower. This puts your dill in the “green seed” stage which is perfect for pickling.