pierre laszlo

Tilia x europea (Malvaceae)

Lindens are trees gracing many a European village. Their traditional uses include collecting honey and making tea, also from their flowers. They rise up to 50-70 ft and spread 30-50 ft. They are long lived, about four centuries. A tree in Ried, Lower Bavaria, is believed to be a thousand-years old. Greek mythology linked such longevity among humans, in the Philemon and Baucis tale. The Elysian Fields, its version of paradise, were scented with linden flowers, which still echoes in the names of the Champs-Elysées in Paris and the Unter den Linden in Berlin, the most prestigious avenues in both cities. Indeed, the linden is an essential component in both French and German cultures and folklores.

The European linden is a cross between two native species, T. cordata and T. platyphyllos. The deciduous tree bears ovate, dark green leaves, up to 4-inch long, pale green underneath and with serrated edges. The young leaves are edible (salads). Mature leaves, once dried and powdered, yield a protein-rich flour. During World War II, when Germans plundered France, the French used it to make bread.

Flowers, grouped into drooping cymes, have five sepals and five petals. They are a pale yellow and bloom in June. They attract both bees and people. Bees sometimes congregate in such large numbers as to make their humming heard at a distance from a tree. Not only do they gorge on nectar from the flowers, they also collect the honeydew regurgitated on the leaves by aphids feeding on them. The ensuing honey, amber-colored, gives off a mentholated aroma while having a strong persistent balsamic flavor. Germanic people are very fond of it. The attractive fragrance of the flowers comes from farnesol first isolated in 1923 by the organic chemist Leopold Ruzicka at the ETH, Zurich: ever since this substance from the terpene family has been a key ingredient in perfumes.

A number of years ago, we were staying in a house in Provence. On a very hot Sunday in early summer we slept late and unbeknownst to us, our eldest daughter, who was about 10, heard villagers go by. She quietly left the house and joined the small crowd. It was the traditional time for Provençaux to collect dried linden flowers and store them for making tea in winter. Our daughter was intent on our family being included. Linden tea has a reputation for calming nerves and preventing insomnia. Linden fruit ripens in late summer, in small nutlets attached to narrow, bract-likes, strap-shaped leafy wings, up to 4-5 inch-long. With these parachute- and propeller-like adjuncts, the fruit slowly helicopters to the ground. As a child, not only did I observe that, but together with my playmates I would attach a pair of these wings on the tip of my nose, as their split stem carries a weak natural adhesive.