Imagine yourself flying through the air. Perhaps you have wings like a butterfly, or maybe a pileated woodpecker. Maybe you dart around with the the speed and agility of a hummingbird.
As the days warm, the flowers release intoxicating scents, filling the air with messages of love. Then one day, you find yourself returning to a tree with heart-shaped leaves. Until you drop under the branches you may not see the creamy white flowers dangling like drunken fruit.
Like an invitation.
That’s what it felt like to learn of the linden tree. Except that I wasn’t flying, I was riding a bike.
There’s many a town that had the foresight to line the streets with linden. In early summer the flowers perfume the air. Attracting both native and honey bees, soldier beetles, and many other insects.
The first time I heard of linden flowers was at the university where I worked. My supervisor was from Romania and lamented that she couldn’t find the linden flower tea she needed in the U.S. She’d relied on it to calm her nerves.
A cluster of native linden, American basswood, stands over the driveway where I live. New branches fan out at the bottom of the tree each spring reaching for any unclaimed rays of sunlight. The solar soaking leaves turned toward the sun. If left alone, the tree would create a fragrant curtain of flowers and leaves. As much as I love it, visitors do not.
When pruning away an opening in the linden curtain I felt the soft flexibility of the wood. It doesn’t take much to bend the trunk for the course of its life. I learned to identify the tree in a forest by looking for curves and the large heart-shaped leaves. Linden is lightweight with almost spongy wood. The fresh bark smells and tastes vaguely like cucumber, moistening and cooling.
I blame linden for my rune carving habit. I knew it would be easy to learn with the soft wood. Later I learned linden wood has long been carved into good luck charms. I sawed a branch into coin-like lengths. As the coins dry a matrix of air pockets are revealed in the cross section of the branch. Strangely, the dried bark smells like crushed lady bugs.
Even stranger, I’ve wracked my brain but I can’t remember any event that would have led me to know the scent of crushed lady bugs. I’ll blame my brother.
The long fibers of the inner bark are used to make cordage and were historically used in fabric. The leaves are edible and suckers can be cut back throughout the season to produce fresh leaves. These I add to salads when the leaves are young… but my favorite part is the flowers. They smell magnificent and taste just as sweet. Honey from linden is delicious, but linden-infused honey is divine.
Linden is associated with the element of air. Perhaps this is for the lightweight and airy wood. Perhaps this is because the sweet, slightly warming, and moist taste relates to the warm and moist nature of the sanguine type of the ancient Greek humoral system of medicine. The sanguine type was considered the most balanced. Because life is warm and moist.
The very air we exhale is warm and moist.
However, in the Appalachian herbal tradition, air is more often associated with the quality of dry. Water is damp, fire is hot, earth is cold, and the fifth element is the vitality or life force that spins through it all.
Air is associated with the nervous system and the lungs. Soothing linden calms the nervous system, deepens and slows the breath, and warms the heart. And now the heart-shaped leaves will never let you forget linden.