Basswood – Tilia Americana: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Bee Tree of Wild Plants

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In Chippewa, wigub’imij, basswood is also called bee-tree, lime-tree, and linden*. It’s an amazing woodcarving material, and those familiar with just that aspect might be surprised at basswood’s edible and medicinal qualities! Plus, bees! *It’s not the same tree as European Linden but the uses are mirrored.

Bee lovers, hear, hear – Basswood blooms are a bee’s paradise and at the start of summer you might be able to follow the buzzing to a mature basswood abloom in the woods.

Edible Uses of Basswood

Basswood - Tilia Americana
Basswood – Tilia Americana

The honey bees who flock to basswood produce some of the finest honey. But basswood is surprisingly edible itself. The cream colored blossoms are edible and you can dry them and steep in hot water for tea. Unopened flower buds are also edible, but you have to remove the numerous stems.

Young, unfurling basswood leaves can be used as a salad green.

The tips of young shoots and inner bark can be chewed raw or cooked, perhaps used to make a broth. The cambien layer tastes sweet and something like cucumber.

Basswood’s tiny nut is edible and tastes something like a sunflower seed. But the nutmeat is smaller than a pea and the shell is thick.

Medicinal Uses of Basswood

Basswood is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Integumentary
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Anti-inflammatory, Astringent, Diaphoretic, Diuretic, Mucilage, and Nervine. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes using a bark poultice or a boiled bark solution for burns.

The flowers, if you can get to them, make a soothing tea for coughs and colds. Alternatively, use the flowers in a hot bath. For your sore throat, the honey from basswood flowers may have an enhanced effect compared to other honey.

Alternative Uses of “Linden Trees”

Bass is a corruption of bast meaning, say, cordage. The inner bark is soaked to separate fibers to weave into ropes, nets, thread, twine, etc.

Its use in wood projects is vast and most woodcarvers will usually start out with it, due to how soft it is to carve.

The flowers are used in beauty products.

Basswood is a soil enhancer.

The trees tend to go hollow on the inside making a cozy home for wildlife.. even bees!:

Basswood Hollow
Basswood Hollow

Growing Tilia Americana

You know the he who plants a tree line, “The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life”? Basswood is a good one to picture. It can take decades before it even flowers. But don’t let that stop you.

Stump sprouts transplant well and I find it to be a fertile tree. You’ll likely find basswood near sugar maple. Basswood lines the dirt roads around me and I see young trees left and right in the woods at the studio. Hopefully, there will still be bees decades from now when many of these young trees are finally flowering.


And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Ontario Nature Guide

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The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants

An Eclectic Guide to Trees East of the Rockies

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Stalking the Healthful Herbs (Field Guide Edition)

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

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