Tea and Chocolate–Products of the Linden?

Honey from linden flowers is said to be some of the lightest and best available.

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Profusions of yellowish white linden flowers

By far the easiest way to find linden trees is during and immediately after they bloom as the clusters of flowers (cymes) give the whole tree a distinctive look, as if the undersides of the leaves have been painted a lighter color. The flowers also give off a fragrance that can be discerned from a distance. Most of the trees are quite tall and if they are tagged, it may be difficult to find the tag, but there is little mistaking a linden in bloom. Also helpful in identification when they aren’t blooming are the heart-shaped, but saw-tooth-edged leaves. The straight trunk and bark also help identify the genus.

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Grooved bark of the American linden
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Cymes of the linden with a single bract

Lindens bloom between May and July, although many sources mention June as the primary bloom time. The very fragrant blossoms come with a single bract and hang down like lacy umbrellas. Others have described them as “fireworks.”

In the US the American linden (Tilia americana) is also know as American basswood or just basswood. The range of this native tree in North America is the East and Midwest. In England, its European relative (Tilia cordata) is known as a Lime tree or little leaf linden.

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Tilia americana in bloom

Most sources state our native tree grows to a height of around 70′. The National Champion tree in a Kentucky cemetery, crowned in 2017, has a height of 102′. There is a tie for the largest American Linden in Colorado, with one tree in Fort Collins and the other in Denver. Both are listed at a height of 92′. Monumental Trees lists the tallest American Linden in Europe at 101 feet and the oldest specimen in the Netherlands as about 138 years old. Other sources have suggested the species can live for a thousand years!

Monumental Trees lists the tallest Tilia Cordata at 132.87 feet. This tree resides in the United Kingdom. One source states a tree in Britain is over 2000 years old, but Monumental Trees lists the oldest as a mere 820 years. In North America, the little leaf has been introduced in the most northeastern parts of the continent, where the normal height is said to be 50 to 60 feet. The US champion (height plus girth plus branch spread) is in the state of Maryland and only towers 83 feet. Colorado’s champion can be found in Denver at 89 feet, with the second place tree, 72′, found in Fort Collins.

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Tilia cordata

Native Americans made rope, netting, and baskets out of the inner bark, or bast, of the basswood tree. The wood is used for lightweight projects such as guitars and other instruments, carvings, yardsticks, and veneer. At one time basswood was the prime material for prosthetic limbs. The Iroquois carved the bark for ceremonial masks. The wood of the tree, being lightweight and fast-burning, may not be the best choice for heating.

According to the Kentucky Department of Horticulture, the American Linden was first cultivated in 1752. An oil derived from its seed pods was used as a replacement for olive oil, while the sap can be made into a drink or boiled into a syrup. Honey from linden flowers is said to be some of the lightest and best available. The preponderance of bees around the trees give rise to another of its nicknames, the bee tree, not to be confused with the Korean bee tree.

An usual product first made in the 19th century from the dried flowers and nutlets

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Nutlets on the little leaf linden

was a chocolate-like substance. Unfortunately this concoction did not keep well and production ceased. In a short article discussing this “chocolate” the author says it is still possible to make some for immediate consumption or to freeze and includes a recipe.

The flowers of the tree especially have many uses. In France the leaves were made into a tea (tilleul) and used as a mild sedative.

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Blooms on comes with a single bract
Cup of Linden tea
Cup of Linden tea. The tea bags are slimy but the taste is pleasant.

Since the middle ages, the tea has been used to cure headaches. Alternatively the flowers could be added to a hot bath to help insomnia. Even today the flowers may be used in the making of perfume, As an early variation of “forest bathing,” sitting under the trees was thought to be helpful to epileptics.

Usually made from the European species, Tilia Cordata, linden tea is a well known use of the trees’ flowers, leaves, and bark. Unlike many medicinal uses of plants, linden tea has had a number of scientific studies conducted and papers written. Many benefits, such as relieving hypertension, stomach issues, and pain, helping you sleep, and a reduction of inflammation are reported in alternative medicine articles. Along with benefits, most of these articles mention a few drawbacks, such as possible heart problems and drowsiness.

To find the trees in City Park, follow your nose! The American Linden (Tilia americanapictured in this blog is B98, which is across from the trolley station on S. Roosevelt Ave. There is another American Linden on the tree map at B101, which is located on north side of City Park Drive between fields 1 and 2. Tilia cordata, or the Little Leaf Linden (A 88), is also on the north side City Park Drive. It is the fourth stem in from the northwest corner of Roosevelt and City Park Drive, two down from the light post and near the little kids’ playground. These three trees almost form the points of an equilateral triangle.

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