Tilia cordata (other Tilia species can be used as well)
Other names: Lime tree, Basswood
Linden flower aroma is filling the air. Usually you notice this tree first with your ears (the buzzing bees gathering the nectar) and your nose. Linden comes in many forms: the very old grandmother trees (they grow old, more than a thousand years!) that we see here in villages, the espalier linden in formal gardens, the city trees that tell tales from long gone.
Linden trees tell us more about history than we would think at first sight. In most big European cities there are long linden lanes that lead to old hospital sites. These were planted to supply the hospitals with linden flowers for infusion that was given to patients with fever and soldiers waiting for medical care. In fact, one of my students told me she was hospitalized in Berlin once and she was offered linden flower tea. Maybe more hospitals should do this. I'm sure it would bring comfort to a lot of people coping with the ordeal of being hospitalized.
Here in Belgium you will find Mary shrines abundantly in villages, and they are nearly always built in Linden trees. The statue of Mary was traditionally also carved in linden wood. It's very soft wood, very suitable for carving toys, furniture, musical instruments, clogs and wooden nativity scenes as well. In pre-Christian times, linden was the tree of Freya, goddess of fertility, love, justice and bliss.
Linden has since long been a popular 'fever tree' in Europe. People would bring little pieces of clothes that belonged to sick people and tie or nail them to linden trees. This is not so crazy, since linden blossom is a diaphoretic herb that makes you 'sweat out' the fever. Its no coincidence that some of the 'Mary trees' now have become places of pilgrimage that are loaded with tiny body parts made in wax to pray for healing. Though the shape shifted, the custom is still the same.
The heart shaped leaf has since long been linked with love (Freya being the goddess of love, remember?), and when two people wanted to get married in the old days, they simply pressed their thumbs against a linden trunk with the whole community in circle around them, and they were considered married. If you are looking for an alternative but ever so romantic marriage scene, this may be it.
Use them fresh or dry them in a dry, well-ventilated place. They will dry quite quickly and be ready and crisp in only a couple of days. Don't forget to sniff the aroma when you happen to pass.
Pictured above with the flowers are not the leaves, but the bracts that are harvested with the flowers. They are there to help spread the seeds, once the flowers have transformed into seeds. When we talk of the linden flowers, what we really mean is the flowers plus the bracts.
Linden flowers are a classic herbal infusion, but there are more options. When steaming vegetables, try adding linden flowers to the steaming water. Make a syrup. Infuse wine or almond milk with the flowers (linden + almonds = heaven!).
I already wrote about the young, heart-shaped leaves being edible in spring. They have the crunch of iceberg lettuce, but with more nutrition. You can also dry them and grind into flour. It's gluten free, nutritious and tasty (I worked in a health food store for 5 years, and when it comes to gluten free, it's nice to have options that don't result in sponge-like foods or bring you closer to bankruptcy).
And after the flowers, the seeds come. When you roast and dry them, and grind them, they are a bit like carob, slight chocolate flavoured. Delicious in home made chai or mocha. Something to look forward to in September.
Enjoy your linden tree!