Linden: The Sweet, Cooling, Harbinger of Midsummer

In the herbal tradition, the golden, fiery Saint John’s Wort has long been associated with midsummer, but Linden also blooms around the solstice. For those of us who live in the city, especially, it’s blooms are at the forefront of our landscape for these few brief days. Their perfume reminds us of the sweetness of life and the branches dripping with blossoms remind us of the abundance of the season. On these longest of days may you be reminded of and experience the sweetness and abundance.

Lindens are in the genus, Tilia, a lovely scientific name for such a lovely tree.  In the cities Tilia species are usually called Lindens. In the countryside and in the vocabulary of forestry they are usually called Basswood or American Basswoods.  In herbals from the UK and other parts of Europe they are called Lime Trees. When you read something suggesting that lime blossoms are a nice, relaxing tea for children, or are used for fevers, they are talking about Linden Blossoms, not blossoms of a citrus lime tree.  Common names for plants are many and varied and have a rich and fascinating history, but they can be confusing.

Lindens are among some of the easiest trees to identify.

linden leaf and blossom

Our native species is Tilia americana.  Basswood is usually a tall canopy tree.  It can grow to 115 feet tall and can reach a diameter of 3 feet around. Suckers  are  common.  It has a narrow crown.  Leaves are heart shaped and have a serrated margin.  They also have the most remarkably fragrant blossoms; they are creamy white/yellow/pale green, borne in clusters and they smell delicious!  I can usually smell them before I see them.  The flower cluster has a papery bract which looks a bit like the winged seed of  maple tree.   When the flower  dies away a little, hard, round nut-like fruit forms and the seeds are within the “nut. ” Tilia americana  is the source of the much prized  Basswood honey that you can find at the farmer’s market or the coo-op.

Basswoods are often so tall, that I don’t usually make medicine from the native species. A couple of  other Tilia species or hybrids are very common trees planted in parks and boulevards and many of these varieties are much smaller, with low hanging branches that I can easily reach with my feet flat on the ground.  These Lindens share most of the same characteristics as our native Basswoods, including the heart shaped leaves, the fragrant flowers, the tendency to sucker and the distinctive blossoms, bract and nut.  The primary difference is in height and silhouette.  The silhouette is a bit like an upside down heart or like a gumdrop. Note the silhouettes below. One species, Tilia cordata, or Little Leaf Linden and the leaf is really little compared to the other species, like maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of the size. This is my favorite type to harvest from.   The blossoms smell a lot sweeter. It’s a really pure sweet smell. With the larger leaf Lindens there are some notes that aren’t as “clean.” Additionally, with the Little Leaf Lindens, the whole cluster tends to bloom at the same time. With the larger leaf Linden(s), some of the cluster are in bud stage, some are blooming and some are past on the same cluster. This is just personal preference.  You may also notice that some Linden blossoms are soft and fluffy and some are more waxy and robust looking.   You don’t need to get hung up on the finer points of distinguishing different species of Linden if you don’t want to. All the Lindens have been used medicinally.  You can use any that you can find and it would be very normal in the Twin Cities to find both native American Basswood, Little Leaf Linden and at least one other species or hybrid Linden (that I haven’t been able to definitively id yet)planted on the boulevard and in public parks.

 

The blossoms are the part used. They are best fresh.  Tea made from fresh Linden blossoms is a delicious seasonal treat.  The blossoms lose most of their delightful scent when dried, even when dried very carefully. I have never been satisfied with any dried Linden Blossoms that I have purchased     my own attempts at drying them have been disappointing as well.

It does,  however, make a fabulous  tincture that  is red in color, somewhat mucilaginous and tastes slightly floral, slightly sour and fruity.

It also makes a lovely syrup.  I make it the same way I make my violet syrup,  infused slowly, gentle heated with white sugar to let the delicate flavors shine and a little lemon juice. You can add a bit of alcohol to increase the shelf life it you want. An infused honey is also nice.  I’ve long had dreams of making lovely linden-scented bath and body products, but an infused oil of linden blossoms was not very fragrant at all when I made it. This is not surprising; a lot of infused herbal oils either smell neutral or even unpleasant.

Linden is part of the folklore of many different European cultures, their stories and mythology.  In the symbolism of flowers linden is a symbol of conjugal love, sweetness, peace and happiness.  The heart shaped leaves evoke the idea of the physical and metaphysical heart.  My favorite, writer on flower essences, Anne McIntyre writes that Linden essence “for those who have trouble giving and receiving love and affection, because of painful experiences in the past. Linden flower helps to release emotional blocks and engenders warmth and openness. It increases awareness of our connectedness to the rest of humanity, relaxed and softens communication between people and strengthen the relationships between loved ones”.  Indeed.  Linden, is also used for the physical heart and vasculature, as you will see as we continue.

Medicinally, Linden is a first-rate cooling remedy.  Blooming as the heat of summer comes on in full force, it exerts powerful cooling and anti-inflammatory influence on the body. In my experience, Linden acts primarily as a nervine,  diaphoretic, hypotensive, anti-inflammatory and diuretic.

Linden is one of the classic children’s herbs.  It sometimes pairs with Elder Blossom, which is shares a lot in common. Sometimes I use it instead of Elder Blossom. Elder Blossom has a complexity in it’s energetics, working on sometimes contradictory states of cold and heat.  Linden is a bit more one dimensional as a coolant. It’s an excellent diaphoretic. Diaphoretics are herbs that increase circulation near the surface, opening the pores and provoking a sweat to cool a fever.  This mimics the bodies natural process of a fever breaking and using herbs as diaphoretics is a healthy way to support a child’s immune system and innate healing capacities.

Linden can be used much like Elderberry and Elder Blossom as a general remedy for cough, cold, fever and flu symptoms.

Dr. Rudolf Weiss, the late esteemed phytotherapist physician and author, describes a trial where children with influenza symptoms were given Linden and bedrest, while another group were given antibiotics only.  He writes that the Linden/bedrest group “recovered most quickly and developed the fewest complications(middle ear inflammation etc.).Children given…antibiotics needed longer to overcome the infection and developed more complications,” (Weiss, 1960).

From Matthew Wood, I learned that Linden is a remedy for hyperactivity and in my practice I have found this to be true.  It is very helpful for children with ADHD.  It is not particularly well-suited for a spacey, unfocused, ungrounded type, but definitely for the type of child that can’t sit still, won’t stop talking and gets into trouble for that at school.  Anxiety, worry and insomnia may also be a part of the symptom picture for these children. Adults may also use it for anxiety, worry and insomnia. As it is so cooling, it is best suited to children showing signs of inflammation or heat.

I also find Linden to be very helpful for seasonal allergies.  Many allergy sufferers have an over-active immune system and quite a bit of heat and inflammation. Compare and contrast or use with other allergy remedies like Hawthorn, Chamomile, Nettle and Goldenrod to create the most useful and specific formula for the individual.

Linden addresses issues of the emotional and spiritual heart but it is also used for the physical heart and vasculature. Linden has a history of use for heart palpitations, high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis.   Linden contains bioflavonoids which we know are potent preventative nutrition and medicine for our vessels. I don’t typically see clients seeking help for arteriosclerosis, but I do see clients with mild to moderate hypertension who are looking to avoid spending the rest of their lives on medication for high blood pressure.  I find Linden to be a wonderful addition to their herbal formulas. Herbs can be very effective for mild to moderate hypertension.  Besides Linden, or in addition to Linder, consider Sweet Melilot, Motherwort, Cramp Bark, Hawthorn and Passionflower. On a couple of occasions I have found that Linden may make someone dizzy, possibly by lowering their blood pressure.  Once, this happened to me.  I gathered a large bowl of fresh blossoms and made a big batch of tea and I served it to my herbal students on a bright sunny day.  There was a lot left over and I hated to waste it, so I drank it all. It was delicious, but my tea drinking was followed by a bout of dizzinesss and light headedness.  On another occasion, a very sensitive client of mine was taking Linden at my suggestion as part of a formula for some kidney symptoms and she also experience light-headedness, which I attributed to the Linden and not to other herbs in her formula. This is not likely, nor is it particularly dangerous, but if it does happen to you or your client, reduce the dose or switch to another herb–you might be extra sensitive.

Linden is an herb that has been used for the kidneys and urinary tract.  It is a diuretic that improves kidney function and elimination via the kidneys. It has a history of use for edema and gout, both kidney related issues.  Matthew Wood writes that Linden useful for those with “dark, scanty urine” and includes the specific indications of “warm, moist skin” and a tongue that is “usually red, sometimes flamed shaped and usually somewhat moist.”

Linden is also used  topically.  The indications are similar to those of Lemon Balm and Saint John’s Wort: soothing for itching and burning skin issues including chicken pox, shingles and herpes/cold sores.  Linden has also been for boils and abscesses.

Have fun with the Lindens! Standing in the shade of a Linden, inhaling that sweet fragrance and filling your bag or basket with blossoms is a wonderful way to spend a summer day.

References

Hoffmann, David.  Medical Herbalism.  2003.

McIntyre, Anne.  The Complete Woman’s Herbal. 1994.

Thayer, Samuel.  The Forager’s Harvest..A guid to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants. 2006.

Weiss, Rudolf.  Weiss’s Herbal Medicine Classic Edition.  2001

Wood, Matthew.  The Earthwise Herbal..A Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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