The common lime tree, also known as the linden or basswood, has roots that extend back to medieval times when it was considered the tree of lovers. Herbal remedies and many common household items are produced from the common lime tree. It also has a history of use in the landscape.
Tilia is a genus that includes about 30 species of trees native to the Northern Hemisphere, with the largest diversity found in Asia. It is a member of the Tiliaceae (flowering plant) family with a genetic link to the Malvaceae (mallow) family. Common lime is known as linden in Europe and basswood in the United States.
Common lime can grow 130 feet tall and typically lives to 500 years old. The large, dark green, heart-shaped leaves make it a popular shade tree. Unfortunately, it produces a sugary secretion that makes it attractive to many insects. The tree produces small, sweetly scented white flowers in June and July. The nutlike fruit, the size of a pea, hangs on the tree in small clusters that are shed in October. The bark is dull gray when the tree is young, turning brownish-gray when mature. The tree can be propagated from cuttings or seeds.
The common lime is well-documented in European history and folklore. The Tilia cordata at Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire, England, is said to be 2,000 years old. A 900-year-old lime tree that was planted by Empress Cunigundi, wife of Henry II of Germany, stands at the Imperial Castle in Nuremberg. In Slavic mythology, linden is considered a sacred tree. In German folklore, the linden tree is associated with lovers. It was also used as a romantic symbol in medieval and Romanian poetry.
Often planted in gardens and along streets, the common lime is a decorative tree. The wood is used for model building and carvings due to its light density. It is also used to make musical instruments and artist's charcoal. The inner bark can be used to make rope, baskets and mats.
There are several medicinal uses for the common lime tree. It has been used historically to aid in curing the common cold, flu, indigestion and headache. The wood, when made into charcoal, can help alleviate intestinal disorders. The flowers are used to make honey; they also can be steeped to make tea that can quell vomiting.