Linden trees are not only beautiful, but they’re also edible! Every part of the linden tree is delicious, and many parts are medicinal too.
When I first started planning our edible food forest, I was adamant about including linden trees.
They seemed like the perfect all-purpose tree with edible and medicinal parts and an excellent food source for the bees. I sketched and planned and picked where our majestic linden would go on paper.
In the spring, we went out to walk the land and refine our plan.
Right at the edge of the woods, where I planned to plant our linden tree, I looked up to see a tree with absolutely huge leaves sprouting, and rugged bark. Wait a minute…we already have a linden. My eyes opened, and on our next woods walk, I saw dozens within a few hundred feet of the house.
Before you start thinking about changing your land and planting your permaculture paradise, take a thorough inventory. You might be surprised at how much diversity is already there…
Identifying Linden Trees
The Linden tree (Tilia sp.), also known as Basswood, Honey-Tree, Bee Tree or Lime Tree, is a common deciduous tree found throughout the northern hemisphere.
It’s easily identified by its utterly gigantic heart-shaped leaves (6-8 inches across) and intensely fragrant flowers. Adult trees have fissured bark and can reach 6 feet in diameter.
All parts of the plant are edible including the leaves, flowers, seeds, sap, and bark.
Range and Habitat
Tilia americana is found throughout the Northeastern and North Central United States from Minnesota to Missouri in the West to Maine and Virginia in the East. Other linden tree species are also found in this range, most notably little leaf linden which is commonly planted as a landscape tree (and has more fragrant flowers).
While it can be found as a young tree on roadsides, sand dunes, and dry exposed ridges, it tree seems to thrive on north and east-facing slopes with moist soils. Its preferred soil type is “mesic” meaning it maintains an abundant supply of moisture year-round without being swampy.
It’s not a dominant tree and generally shares the forest with Sugar Maple, Ironwood, White Ash, Red Maple, and Elm.
That happens to be the exact makeup of our 30 acres here in Central Vermont, and there are seemingly hundreds of linden trees dotting the woodland now that I know how to identify linden trees.
Linden Trees flower for two weeks sometime between May and July.
The actual flowering period depending on location and year to year weather conditions. At any given point during the two-week flowering period, a single tree will possess flowers at all stages of development hanging downward from leaf stalks.
Groupings range from 4 to 40 flowers in an inflorescence, and the larger groupings are particularly dramatic.
Trees begin flowering at about 15 years of age and continue throughout the life of the tree.
Since mature lindens are huge trees, it can be difficult to forage from adult specimens that have reached the canopy. Look for a tree that is at least 2 inches in diameter and watch carefully during the flowering season for bud formation if you want to harvest these tasty edible flowers.
The best time to gather linden flowers is right after they open.
The flowers quickly fade, and they’ll only have peak fragrance (and taste) for just a few days. Since the flowers open over a two week period, you may need to make several trips back to the same tree for your linden flower harvest.
Linden flowers can be used fresh, provided they’re used immediately. They’ll only last about 24-48 hours after harvest, so it’s best to begin drying them immediately for storage.
As with any flower, it’s best to dry them in a cool, dark well-ventilated space.
Avoid drying them in your oven, which will drive off much of their delicate flavor. Lay them out on screens and allow them to dry for a few days, ideally with a small fan to help with air circulation.
If you live in a particularly humid area, which happens to be most of a linden tree’s range…then it’s actually best to use a commercial dehydrator to ensure even drying to preserve linden flowers.
We use an Excaliber 9 Tray dehydrator which quickly and efficiently dries linden flowers. I add purpose-built silicone sheets to the drying trays, which helps support the tiny flowers through the drying process. Without the sheets, most of the flowers would fall through the racks during drying.
Set the dehydrator to the lowest temperature setting (usually around 100 to 110 degrees) and dry the linden flowers for 6 to 18 hours.
The total time will depend on the ambient humidity in your home, as well as the moisture levels in and on the flowers. (ie. Harvesting them with morning dew on them will mean a longer drying time).
The flowers have a strong sweet smell, like honeysuckle or jasmine. They taste as floral as they smell, with the added flavor of a little sweet green asparagus. They can be eaten fresh or made into medicinal linden tea or tincture.
Medicinally, they’re most commonly used as a sedative and in the treatment of anxiety, similar to how chamomile is used today.
They’re also used in the treatment of colds and flus, as well as respiratory issues. The flowers are sedative, expectorant, diuretic, and antiseptic. (Source)
Linden is sometimes called the “Honey-Tree” because it’s great for pollinators. Over 60 species of insects are known to routinely visit its flowers. Though linden trees only bloom for about 2 weeks a year, they’re a major nectar source for bees.
A single acre of mature linden trees can produce enough nectar to make over 1,000 pounds of honey.
Around these parts, the trees are often covered by both native bees and honey bees collecting the sweet linden nectar.
Linden honey itself is has a unique fresh woodsy taste, with a hint of mint and camphor. Though it’s light in color, it’s strongly flavored honey.
While it’s generally hard to obtain monofloral honey from any particular flower early summer, linden honey is an exception.
The blooms are so attractive during the two week period in early summer that beekeepers can actually pull off honey that is predominantly made with linden flowers if they time it correctly.
The result is pretty magic and unlike more generic wildflower or apple blossom honey that can be obtained just before and after the linden bloom. I happened to find a jar of linden honey locally, but you can also order it online here.
While linden flowers get all the attention, my favorite part of the linden tree is actually the leaves.
They’re a spectacular salad green, and unlike other wild greens usually harvested from edible weeds, they have no bitterness. Nothing but sweet, juicy salad from these, very similar to an expensive head of Boston butter lettuce.
Linden leaves are always edible but are best when picked young and before they have grown to full size. No bigger than 2 inches harvested in the early spring is ideal.
As they get older the texture changes and they get tough but are still quite tasty. Eat them fresh right off the tree, or use as a base for a salad.
They taste green and slightly sweet.
Even better than linden leaves are the tightly curled linden leaf buds.
If you catch linden just as it’s budding, but before the leaves unfurl, you’re in for a real treat. Linden leaf buds taste almost exactly like sugar snap peas. They are very sweet, and all that concentrated leaf matter rolled tightly into a bud has a pleasant sweet green crunch.
Since they’re so tasty and perfect for a pop in your mouth snack, it’s easy to overharvest linden leaf buds. Be careful, and remember that the growing tree will need most of these leaves to collect energy during the summer months.
Since linden trees usually get quite tall within a few years, most of the buds will be safely out of reach, but if you happen on a young tree, go ahead and harvest a small handful of these delicious linden treats.
When the tree is young, it’s easily confused for a bush or shrub because it tends to grow in a bushy habit. Early on if it’s not competing for sunlight, young basswood trees will look a lot more like “bushes,” especially when they’re growing along roadsides.
These low growing “bush” linden trees are an excellent source of fresh greens.
Mature adult trees reach high into the canopy, but leaves are often accessible due to suckering at the base. Those small suckers are a great source of wild foraged greens, but they often don’t flower.
It’s said that linden seeds, which develop a few weeks after flowering, can be made into a convincing chocolate substitute. The seeds husks can be easily cracked between your teeth, and the seeds themselves are then ground into a chocolate-like substance. The ground paste, however, does not keep very long, making linden chocolate not viable on any large scale.
I’ve also read that you can crack linden seeds and extract a tiny edible nut from the inside.
I’ve tried both, and I’m sad to say I was unsuccessful. Though many sources say linden seeds are edible, I’ve yet to find a palatable way to eat them.
Sources say that only immature seeds, when mixed with the sweet-scented dried flowers, produce a chocolate substitute. When the seeds mature they lose some of their chocolate flavors, and gain a more coffee-like taste.
This may be limited to European linden species. I tried making linden chocolate out of the seeds of a Tilia Americana and it quite simply didn’t work. There’s nothing in those small, hard, bitter seeds that could be made into chocolate.
I couldn’t even get them to grind.
If you have access to European linden, give it a try and let me know how it goes.
Use this recipe for linden chocolate:
Mix 10-12 parts immature seed to 1 part dried flowers and process in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Add a little neutral oil (grapeseed, etc) to help you make it into a manageable paste. Eat immediately, as it loses its flavor within a day or two. (Source)
Use this recipe for Linden Coffee:
Roast mature seeds at 300 degrees F for 20 minutes until dry and browned. Grind when cool and make as you would coffee. (Source)
Linden is part of a large group of hardwood trees you can tap for syrup.
The sap runs for a brief period in the early spring. While maple sap is roughly 3-5% sugar, linden sap is only roughly 1% and will take a lot more sap to make a gallon of syrup (~120 gallons instead of ~40 for maple). (Source)
We tried tapping linden trees for syrup, but sadly, we were unsuccessful. While we make syrup from maple trees as well as other species, including birch syrup and ironwood syrup, linden sap never seems to run.
I recently talked to the people that run New Leaf Tree Syrups here just down the road from us, and they tell me that many tree species require a vacuum pump to extract sap. They make a delicious butterscotch flavored syrup from beech trees, but the sap won’t run without a vacuum pump.
So while you can make syrup from the sap of linden trees, it doesn’t exactly naturally run like maple sap.
While linden sap is commonly mentioned as a “survival food” that provides both water and nutrients, it’s not very practical if it requires a vacuum system…
Still, while tapping linden trees may be impractical for the backyard sugar maker, they have another sugar-related use.
Basswood saplings were also traditionally used to make taps, as they can be easily hollowed out of pith to make a durable wooden tube to funnel the sap from the tree.
We’ve made our own maple taps using elderberry and staghorn sumac, but now I’m excited to try making basswood taps because I imagine they’d be considerably more durable.
The bark, or more specifically, inner cambium can be removed and eaten. It tastes slightly sweet and green like a cucumber. It can be eaten fresh as a vegetable, or dried and ground into powder for baking (mixed with flour).
Bark flour?!?! Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
We make pine bark flour and birch bark flour, and both are pretty delicious when used correctly.
Linden cambium is best taken in the early spring when its sugar content is the greatest. Harvesting from the trunk can hurt or kill a mature tree. It’s best to find a limb or sucker and cut it off completely, then peel back the outer bark to reach the sweet cambium.
Anytime you cut into the bark of a tree, you’re opening up the trunk of the tree to insects, disease, and decay. If you cut around the full circumference of the tree, a practice known as girdling, the supply of nutrients is completely cut off, and the tree will die.
According to the Herbal Academy’s online Botany and Wildcrafting Course, “As a rule, never harvest from the trunk of a living tree. Only harvest bark from a tree that has been recently cut down for some other reason or has recently fallen over on its own. The timing here can be tricky, as you only want to harvest from recently fallen trees (within a few weeks of falling or being cut down) and not those that have begun to rot and decay. Never, absolutely never, cut a tree down simply just to harvest its bark or its root bark. This is not only unethical, but unsustainable, and is the reason why so many tree species used in herbalism, such as slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), are currently at risk from over-harvesting.”
Other Uses For Linden
While the wood has a low BTU rating and makes poor firewood, it is prized for carving because it is very light and has little discernible grain. Charcoal made from basswood is said to be more absorbent of impurities than that of other woods, and it is used as a filter and in medicine for digestive complaints.
The cambium (inner bark) is used as cordage and was processed into clothing like linen by Native Americans. It is not quite as strong or durable as linen, but the tree produces vast quantities and the strands are very long, making it useful in quantity, if not quality.
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A lot of great information here! I’d love to find some LInden trees for foraging. They are so beautiful, and who knew…a chocolate substitute? So neat!
Nothing has been said about how Japanese Beatles love this tree, I was never bothered by these bugs till last year, I have a full grown tree and they stripped the top. I attempted to spray, but couldn’t get near the top. Th’s year the bugs are back again, Arriving about 3 weeks late.
That’s interesting…they don’t touch mine. They always hit the cherry trees and grapes first. Once they strip those they go for the raspberries. The leaves of linden are tender though, I can imagine they’d like them. I just have so much other food they love more in my yard…
You can easily prevent damage from Japanese beetles by treating the ground at the base of the tree with imidachlorpid (such as Bayer Tree and Shrub) each year in May. This has worked for years with my Linden tree.
Imidacloprid also kills bees, please don’t use it. also please note that some plant growers have begun marking those plants they have used it on so that potential buyers will be aware.
I kept meaning to harvest some linden flowers this year (for the first time) and finally scavenged the last of the decent reachable blooms today. How do you dry them to store for use in tea later on? I usually hang most flowers, because I don’t have a dehydrator, but that won’t work for these. I have a small toaster oven that’s temp will go as low as a dehydrator if need be.
Try drying them on a screen in a well-ventilated area, or with a fan blowing in their general direction. They’re pretty fragile, so even the oven on low might be too hot. Depends on whether or not it’s really humid where you are right now though…
I was just out walking on our land and came across a huge old Linden Tree in full flower. I would not even have seen it but the sounds of the bees drew my eyes up to it. I was so excited to see it – like you I never knew it was there and I had it on the wish list too! I googled uses and found your blog. Amazing! I live in Vermont (NEK) too! Subbed to your blog. Thanks for info.
Wonderful Cynthia! I’m so glad you found one. I was so excited, so I know just what that feels like =)
I live in a townhome and have a linden tree in a small patch of grass in front of my TH. It was probably a year old when I moved in 17 years ago. It is way to large a tree to have been płanted in this spot. This year was awful… it started flowering in May and has not stopped dropping the seeds and helicopters… my small yard and neighbors driveway has been an eyesore all summer. The seeds are awful and seem to be choking out my grass and hostas. Please tell me this will not go on ever year going forward. I believe it is fully matured ? Is there anything that can be done to stop it from flowering?
Ouch. There’s nothing I know of that will stop it from flowering, other than a hail storm right when it’s breaking bud. If it’s 17 years old, it has a lot of growing left to do, they get very large. We have some on our land that my husband and I can’t touch hands when we reach around them. When they’re bigger, they’ll produce even more of those little seeds and helicopters. Most people love them as beautiful trees with fragrant flowers, but one person’s paradise is another person’s hell it seems…
Sorry, I don’t have any useful advice, other than it’s likely to get worse.
The seeds DO choke out the grass, especially since lindens drop SO MANY. Also, they drop leaves constantly most of the year, “starting” in the latter half of summer and continuing through fall, into the following spring because even though dead, the leaves don’t all fall by or during winter.
When you consider the tons of seeds they drop, plus the constant leaf raking for so much of the year, this is not a tree I would want in a yard. On your property, okay, but not in a yard that you’re trying to maintain.
We have a huge Linden tree in our back yard in Bright, Victoria, Australia. We have very hot summers and cold winters which suit this type of tree. We considered cutting it down to allow for solar on our roof and luckily we did not! It gives us so much shade in summer and lets the light in winter. We are very excited to hear of all the healing and food properties of this tree and will treasure it from now on. We do agree that it is messy but so are children and we love them so whats the big deal?
Exactly right =)
this was an awesome post. Thank you. I am just about to plant some Linden tree seeds that I gathered last fall, not knowing what they were.
DOES THE AMERICAN LINDEN TREE HAVE THE SAME QUALITIES?
Thank you so much for letting me know!
I have a little leaf linden that I’ll be watching closely for leaf buds to try! It’s matured to full size and I LOVE the smell and the buzz of all the different types of bees when it’s in bloom! It does make our drive and sidewalks look like sawdust all over, but I don’t care. Last year (2018) I had the leaves start dropping like crazy in the summer and found that they looked like lace! It took several times examining the tree to see what was going on- Japanese beetles! They’d never attacked this tree before! And we’ve lived here 16yrs! But there were also fewer bees on it that year. So maybe something weird was going on. Usually the beetles defoliate my roses and nothing else.
I’ve heard that from a few people recently. They always go for our cherry trees first, and I’ve never really seen them on linden. There’s always a first time though, and who knows what they’ll prefer year to year.
Just harvested some linden blossoms to dry for tea and make a little liqueur, but like last year, (when I threw them away), they’re full of teeny tiny little bugs that seem to come out of them when you spread them out. Can’t find anything about the bugs online. Smaller than an aphid and longish. Any thoughts? I’m guessing they wouldn’t kill me, but might kill my urge to drink tea when I know they’re in there 🙂
Interesting…ours have never had any bugs at all in them. Try placing them in a bowl of water for an hour or two and soaking the bugs out?
No matter how much food can be harvested from a Linden they are not my favourite kind of tree. Constant, and I mean daily, they drop leaves, branches and then the seedlings, and a ton of leaves before winter with more branches. They impede traffic turning on the corner of my street because of green leafy sprouts at the base which sometimes get as high as 4 or 5 feet. The Linden is not a controllable tree and with everything else I mentioned it heaves the side walk with roots that are far deeper, wider and stronger than the town fathers ever imagined when they planted this beast. Here’s hoping it falls in the next strong storm. I have planted many red maples a much more civilized tree over the Linden. And the article mentioned slow growing, not the one I have, it grows like the weed that it is.
Fair enough. There are hundreds of them in our woods, and I imagine they’re much more suited to a woodland landscape than an area with sidewalks. They’re slow-growing in the woods, but perhaps in full sun in the suburbs things are different. Sorry it’s such a problem tree for you, but clearly you’re right, it’s just not the right species for that spot.
I’m intrigued with the amount of information you provide about the Linden. We have one in our backyard which shades our house wonderfully, enhances the backyard with its majestic form, and provides us with an abundance of flowers for tea. I was hoping to find specific instructions for gathering the flowers for tea. The first year we enjoyed the tea, a visitor picked for us, and we simply dried the florets and narrow leaves, stored them in large glass jars in the dark, and steeped tea using the bulky product. This year, I decided to pulverize the dried flowers and leaves, but the tea flavour is not nearly as satisfying, and it’s much paler in colour, too. I was pleased with the deep cherry red tea we had previously. I wonder if we failed to pick early enough to get optimum flavour. Can you advise me?
Also, I had no idea it was the seeds that are choking out the grass under the tree. We like the tree far too much to get rid of it, so we’ll just use our shop vac to keep the surrounding area cleared of seeds.
Just one suggestion: When you talk about using the buds to make a chocolate-like product, you suggest using a mortar and pistil. According to an online dictionary (Oxford) pis·til /ˈpistl/ nounBOTANY denotes
the female organs of a flower, comprising the stigma, style, and ovary. I think you meant to say “mortar and pestle.” Perhaps a spell-checker did you a disservice! I know how easy it is for little glitches like this to happen.
I’d appreciate your giving a little more information on the best time to pick, dry and store the blossoms for tea.
Thanks for the heads up! This was one of the very first articles I wrote, literally years ago. I’ve gone back through and updated it with a lot more information, including when/how to pick and preserve the flowers. They need to be dried soon after harvesting, ideally in a low temp dehydrator (or on a screen with a fan nearby). They only keep a very short time. Good luck with them!
Paul R Palazzo
I recently planted a Linden tree because it is supposed to be fast growing. I needed a tree that would give shade. I did not know they produced seeds. My question is…I have a dachshund and I am fencing in the backyard so she can run and play. Are the seeds harmful or poisonous if my dog ate them????? If so I will have to cut it down and find another tree. I planted one last year (7/2019 ) that was nearly 12 ft tall and noticed flowers this year. PLEASE, let me know. My dog is my life long companion and is treated like a little boy.
According to the ASPCA’s website, linden is non-toxic to dogs, but you should do more research or ask your vet.
I have a very large Linden tree in our front yard. .We just moved in 1 year ago and it is so lovely.We noticed this year that there are like little spikes all over the leaves. We are not sure what it is and what is causing it. Can you please advise what we can do if this is a problem.
Hmm, I’m not really sure, but after some Googling, it could be mites. You may want to compare your tree to a picture online.
I planted my little leaf linden 16 years ago at 13 feet tall and have had a love hate relationship ever since. The first 7 or 8 years were problem free and the blooms a few years in were delightful. We learned to water heavily if we wanted blooms. A few years ago, we started seeing the galls you mentioned on the leaves and were told it was mites. I had the tree sprayed with dormant oil the following early spring but the problem continued that summer and the next.. It doesn’t seem to harm the tree though. This year the tree is gall free and laden with blooms after I watered heavily throughout the spring. A far worse problem now is an aphid infestation and the thousands of ants that feast on the honeydew they produce. The sticky stuff covers our cars in the driveway. To control the ants, (and hopefully keep them out of the house!) I wrapped the lower trunk with a few inches of cloth tape and then wrapped a few of those sticky fly strips around that and secured it with a few tacks for good measure.. Each day there are hundreds of ants caught as they scurry up and down the trunk. Around the base, I’ve placed ant traps with a sweet bait to kill the colonies since that’s what this species seem to like. I sympathize with the posts about the mess of leaves and seeds this tree makes too. This has been an awful lot of work to get the spectacularly fragrant bloom each year that only lasts for a couple of weeks at most! I wish I had a big property where I could visit my linden far from the house. Now that would be lovely!
We love our annual Bee Day, when the flowers open and you can hear the bees from the house! This year, I learned you can make tea from linden trees. But if I’m reading this correctly, if I made tea, we’d be sacrificing Bee Day? How many flowers, ideally, would I want to harvest? (We have one tree…)
A handful or so would be enough for a serving or two of tea.
Excellent article. Today 21. 7. 2020, I spent a couple of hours collecting linden flowers for my partner to dry. We have two enormous linden trees right next to our house in our village in the Czech Republic. One tree flowers about a month before the other. Both provide great shade in the hot summers of the last few years and also soak up the dampness from around the stone foundations of our cottage, helping to keep the interior dry.
The trees are on local council land, so sometimes it is a battle to get someone to carry out maintenance on the trees. There is an all or nothing approach – leave it or cut it down. Luckily, we manage to talk the local council into investing the money into maintenance. Last year, we had tree surgeons clambering all over one of the two linden trees – it had been looking pretty poorly, with lots of dead wood and mistletoe. The result is amazing – a beautiful tree, standing proudly with glossy, healthy-looking leaves, no empty areas. I would gladly do this myself, but these trees are seriously big!
And yes, we have lots of leaves and sticky goo all over everything, but the tree is a haven for nuthatches, blue tits, woodpeckers, squirrels, etc.
Wonderful! Thanks for sharing!
Wonderful article full of detail, thank you. In New Zealand I love to eat young linden leaves as you mention. They are special because they are mucilaginous or slimy in texture – this is soothing to our mucous membranes. Thanks again.
Im new to foraging. When talking about Linden Trees, can I assume that all varieties of the Linden Tree are going to have the same medicinal and culinary qualities? I am thinking about buying several Greenspire Lindens for our property.
From what I have read it appears that all the Greenspire Lindens or T. cordata is often used in the same was as other Linden trees in the Tilia species. you might want to do your own research first to be sure though.
Hello! Can I use linden seeds and great mallow in making capers?
I haven’t personally tried it but I don’t see why you couldn’t try it with any edible seed.
I have a linden tree growing in my yard. Sadly, this year I have missed the full bloom by a few days. I’ve read that’s when you are supposed to pick the flowers. The tree has flowers on it still but they aren’t in full bloom, but still smell fragrant. Can I still pick the flowers and use them for tea? I was also thinking about selling dried flowers and leaves on my business website. Do people still sell dried linden flowers that are past the full bloom stage?
I would think that you could still get some benefit out of them if they are still fragrant. I personally would be hesitant to sell them as I would want to be sure that I was providing my customers with the best possible product.
The pods of the linden trees around where I live in Maryland are quite small. Will they get bigger later in the month, or are they good to harvest now to try to make chocolate? Thanks!!
They aren’t very large and some say that as they mature they will lose some of their flavor so it’s best to harvest when immature.
I have found several linden trees in my neighborhood, but the berries (fruits?) are only about caper size, and in videos I’ve seen from @blackforager on Instagram, the fruits she was finding looked to be about the size of blueberries. Are there different varieties with different size fruits, or will the ones I’ve found get bigger over the season? I just don’t want to pick them early if they need more time to ripen/grow.
I’m just now seeing this. Did you end up harvesting any of the linden berries?
This was a super interesting read! Thank you! On the note of the seeds being like chocolate. I follow The Black Forager and she roasted her seeds before grinding them up in a coffee grinder. Then added some sugar and some oil.
We tried this yesterday and added it to milk (tho next time I’ll hold on the oil so it can mix better with the milk) and it was DELICIOUS!!!! It didn’t smell like chocolate but my husband said if he didn’t know, he would have just assumed it was hot chocolate.