Botanical name - Tilia cordata ¬Mill. also hybrids Tilia platyphyllus Scop., Tilia x¬ europea L. (syn. T. x vulgaris) Common names: linden tree, tilleul or lime tree - not to be confused with lime citrus fruit from the rutaceae family The origin of the name "linden/lime" derives from the Old English words Lind or Lynde and linden meaning ‘made from the lime wood’. The Linnaeus, Lindelius and Tiliander family names shares the same root as the linden tree which origin is said to come from a very ancient linden three in Sweden. The legend of this tree relates that when Lindelius family died out a big branch fell out and when the daughter of the great botanist Linnaeus died a second main branch fell out and finally, when the last of the Tiliander family died the tree seem to lose its strength, although, today the trunk of this tree still exists and is revered by many.
Botanical family: Tiliaceae
The Tilia genus grows throughout the temperate parts of the Northern hemisphere including Great Britain, Scandinavia, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Poland and many other countries. Lime trees easily grow up to 40 feet high and historically, have been planted in many towns and the countryside to provide shade in the hot summer days and as ornamental trees.
In Britain, lime trees are often found spontaneously growing in ancient woodlands and used to be fairly common but not anymore as they have now been added to the list of SSSI status (Special Sites of Scientific Interest) due to their worrying decreasing numbers. Shrawley Wood in Worcestershire, the largest of the ancient woodlands of the Great Britain and is home to small- leaves lime trees (tilia cordata) as well as bluebells and chestnut and is now a protected woodland site.
Myths, Traditions and Spirituality
There are numerous interesting myths and healing traditions related to the lime tree, some going back to Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, the Celts, Germany, Poland and Austria. European cultures are fortunate to have inherited a wealth of knowledge about plants from the ancient Greeks along with their particular way of using myths to teach the origins and properties of many medicinal plants. Myths usually are a symbolic story that tells what lesson a plant has to teach and what we can benefit from learning that lesson. These myths are almost always sublimated tales of deep anger, rejection, jealousy, love or deep sorrow belonging to the divine soul and reveal the spiritual dimension of medicinal plants and our ancient connection to Nature and healing. Plants are also a symbol of life after death and of the immortality and rebirth of the soul once the body returns to the earth.
Symbolism of the Linden Tree
Plants in myths are a symbol of immortality as this ancient Greek tale about linden blossom shows – it tells the story of Zeus and Hermes who decided to pay a visit to the land of mortals to see if they were behaving themselves. In disguise, they knocked on many doors and found that no one would give them food and shelter. Eventually, they came to the house of Philemon and Baukis who welcomed them. They were pleased and to reward them of their generosity, Zeus granted them their wish to remain together forever after they died and transformed Philemon into an Oak tree and Baukis into a tilia (lime tree) so they could be intertwined side by side for eternity. Interestingly, in nature, it is common to find oak and limes trees growing close to each other. The lime tree has been sacred tree in Britain since Celtic time and is a holy tree in Christianity.
Traditionally, the lime tree is a ‘friendship’ tree that brings sweetness and peace; a ‘justice tree’ as the courts used to sit under it because it was believed to inspire fairness; a love tree dedicated to a number of love goddesses; a ‘guardian tree’ as it protected homes, weddings and children; in Germany, Transylvania and Romania lime trees were planted to prevent witches or the devil from entering the house while in Scandinavia, it was forbidden to cut them down as they were believed to be the abode of the spirits. These beliefs are example of the healing power of this majestic ancient tree as it inspires fairness, friendship, remorse, bravery, and generosity and its leaves brewed in a tea will help calm the spirit and induce a gentle slumber that can heal our broken dreams.
Folk Medicine and Traditional Herbal Medicine
Theophrastus (Gr. 371-287 BC) who wrote ‘enquiry into plants’ and Pliny the Elder (naturalist AD23-79AD) both refer to lime leaves as a diuretic and helpful to epilepsy. In folk medicine, due to the heart shape leaves, the lime tree is often dedicated to love goddesses such as Aphrodite or Venus or the Norse goddesses Freyja. It is associated to love, sensuality and sexuality and was said to cure all diseases of heart and sexual and reproductive body parts. In Britain, Lime trees were planted by royal decree along many roads to ensure that the harvest of its flowers was plentiful as it was an important medicinal remedy.
The Herb Tea
The wood, leaves and flowers have many medicinal properties and the herb tea is used to calm nervousness, ease digestion and induce sleep. Lime/Linden flower tea is used for many ailments in herbalism e.g. upper and lower respiratory infections, fevers, high blood pressure, migraine, digestive spasms and as a diaphoretic, diuretic and sedative.
If you are fortunate to have lime trees near you, the best time to harvest the flowers is during the warm weather, immediately, after they come into bloom or a couple of days after the rain. They can then be left to dry naturally in the shade. Many bees are attracted to the pollen of its flowers and make a very rare pale honey which also has great properties for healing coughs, bronchitis, nervous problems and insomnia.
As a food
Lime leaves just can be used as a substitute to vine leaves – it requires picking the young lime leaves between April and June and first, covering them with boiled water until they are soft but not ‘mushy’ and then stuffing them with chopped onions, rice, mushrooms, salt and curly parsley and wrapped into little parcels. They can be baked in an earth ware with a little water in the bottom until they are cooked. They can be then eaten with all types of chutneys.