Eastern Shore Food Lab

Tilia americana - American Basswood

The American linden or basswood is one of North America’s edible trees with droopy yellow flowers that bloom in June and characterize its beautiful appearance. During the autumn its heart-shaped leaves turn a similar dazzling yellow to its flowers.

Scientific Name: Tilia americana

Common Names:  American Linden, American Basswood

Plant Family: Mallow (Malvaceae)

Etymology: Basswood, comes from “Bass,” a corruption of “bast,” which is a type of fiber.

Edible Parts

Young twigs and buds cooked as greens or eaten raw. Flowers can be made into a tea, while the leaves of the tree can be used as a green. The sap and bark are also edible.

Historic Uses

The Ojibwa ate the young buds raw or cooked as greens and they used the sweet sap, boiling it down to a syrup. An infusion of leaves was used as an eyewash by the Algonquin. The Dakota, Omaha, and Pawnee used the ashes of the basswood to leach acorns to remove the bitter taste from the nuts. The Cherokee used it to aid dysentery and as a hangover cure. The Iroquois used it to dress burns, induce vomiting, and as a panacea.

Habitat

Hardwood hammocks and moist, well-drained, loamy (fine-textured) soils of river floodplains and wetland areas across the east coast.

How to Identify

The leaves of the basswood are simple, alternating, heart-shaped leaves ranging from 4 to 8 inches long. Outside of the leaves are coarsely toothed. The summer leaf color is dark green above and lighter green underneath. The leaves turn to a pale yellow in the fall. Flowers are creamy yellow and hang off the tree.

Additional Information

Honey made from the flowers of the basswood is said to be the most delicious kind of honey. Linden flowers have a pleasant, tangy taste, and for this reason the tree is sometimes called lime flower.

Planting Considerations

This tree is large and needs plenty of room to develop. Branches need to be spaced out with room to allow for development of a durable structure. Left unpruned, weak crotches with embedded bark can develop. Be sure main branches remain less than about half the diameter of the trunk. Lindens take up plenty of space and should be planted where there’s room for the roots to expand.

  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 2
  • Native Range: Eastern United States
  • Forest Garden Layer: canopy
  • Permaculture functions: shade, food, fiber
  • Soil moisture: well-drained soil
  • Soil texture: loam and clay soils
  • Height: 50-70 feet
  • Spread: 30-50 feet
  • Growth rate: medium, 12-24 inches a year
  • Sun: full sun
  • Bloom: June
  • Attracts: small animals, bees
  • Tolerates: shade
  • Drawbacks: Needs frequent pruning

Sources 

  • EBSCO CAM Review Board. “Linden’s Therapeutic Uses.” Salem Press Encyclopedia of Health, 2019. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ers&AN=94415922&site=eds-live.
  • TRAIL, JESSE VERNON. “Edible Trees.” American Forests, vol. 123, no. 1, Winter/Spring2017 2017, pp. 16–23. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rgm&AN=121003895&site=eds-live.
  • Native Ethnobotany
  • Morton Arboretum
  • US Forest Service
  • Eat the Planet