The Heritage Herb Garden at the Ozark Folk Center graces the park with visual colors and textures and sweet and pungent aromas. This natural display helps us to interpret the history of the human use of plants.

 “Lavender’s green dilly dilly, lavender’s blue

If you love me, dilly, dilly, I will love you

Let the birds sing, dilly, dilly, and the lambs play

We shall be safe, dilly, dilly, out of harm’s way.”

 

This is an English folk song and nursery rhyme that dates back to the seventeenth century. The lyrics and meaning have been altered as it moved through time and space. I first heard it by Leon and Mary Russell on their Wedding Album. The herb lavender and folk music came to the Ozarks a long time ago with immigrants from Europe.

Lavender is indigenous to the mountains of the Mediterranean Sea. England is just north of lavender’s original range. The plant’s highly valued fragrance and medicinal properties made it a trade commodity. The English cultivation of lavender goes back to 1568. Being an herbalist, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that dilly was a pet name and had its origins from the herb dill. Further research revealed that it is probably a shortened name for daffodil.  

The Americas were discovered by Europeans as a consequence of the attempt to find a direct sea route between southern Europe and the Indies for the spice trade. Our ancestors traveled here from somewhere else, leaving what they could not carry. Some carried seeds and plants. Nearly everyone carried a tune, whether they could sing or not. Lavender plants were listed on ship manifests, along with rosemary and southernwood, on the earliest voyages of pilgrims from the old world to Plymouth Harbor. Raising livestock for meat, fat, leather and fiber was a matter of survival for early settlers. Sheep adapted well to New World pastures. The folksong Lavender Blue made perfect sense to all who lived on farms.

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution during the second half of the 18th century, people in the country transitioned from making a living by producing products by hand to making things on machines. Many left the land and moved into cities to be closer to manufacturing centers. As a result of that change, so long ago, most of us spend time working at a job and then shopping for what we eat and wear, rather than of making dill pickles, wool sweaters and lavender sachets at home on the farm.

The Ozark Folk Center State Park exists to connect people to their musical, handcrafted and herbal roots; it is a worthy and important mission (And we will be doing just that the first weekend of October for the Herb Harvest Fall Festival, interpreting how the countries of Northern Europe and Scandinavia are connected to the Ozarks.) Society has progressed to the point that many do not know that the aroma of lavender comes from the flowers of a plant, though artificial fragrances called lavender are purchased and plugged into electrical outlets. Children may not know the difference between a kid and a lamb. If we care to do it, we and our kids can play music and grow dill, lavender and lambs in the safety of the Ozarks. If I don’t see you in the future—I’ll see you in the pasture.