Forage Friday #36 Basswood

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It’s said that only God can count the number of trees there are in a seed. And one of most unique seeds on my mountain is the Basswood. (Known as lime it linden by my European readers. ) Basswood gets it’s name from the fibrous inner bark that comes in interwoven strands that was called bass in the old days. The bass is best collected from wood that’s been dead for the few days but once you have it it’s made into cordage by twisting and coiling. The resulting cords can me made into fairly strong rope or baskets.

The wood from Basswood is best known for carving. It’s fairly soft and easy to shape by beginners. But it’s also the secret behind Viking shields. The wood is relatively easy to peel into sheets. These sheets were then layered in a way that is similar to the way plywood is made today. The trick is to make the grain of the wood criss cross on a 90 degree angle so that the layers support each other. The Vikings held the layers together with a glue made from milk. Think of how tough it is to scrape melted and dried cheese out of a dish and you’ll get idea of how strong the milk glue is. A final layer of linen was glued on and painted. The whole shield would be reinforced with either an iron ring or laminated linen. This technique lasted well into the Renaissance .

Defense from roving bands of Viking raiders isn’t really a priority today but the Basswood is still a tree with a lot to offer.  The mildly sweet flowers are a favorite food for honey bees and are collected by herbalists. The tea made from linden flowers is used for a wide variety of issues. The properties of the tea are said to be especially useful for colds and flu.  The tree is rich in mucilage ( a slimy type of plant fiber that also found in okra ) which is soothing to sore throats and believed to help congestion of the airways.  The linden flowers are also said to be a mild sedative as well as help fight inflammation. ( as always please remember that I have no medical training and I’m only pointing out interesting tid-bits with the intention of providing a conversation starter. ) 

The food value of Basswood is if particular interest to me. Not only does it provide honey (with help from the bees ) but it can also feed us directly. Several of my primitive serval books talk about the spring buds being used to thicken stews. Or that can be steamed and eaten by themselves. The young leaves if Basswood have been useful in salad. Older leaves are edible but not as tasty. They can also be a little tough if they’re too mature. There’s about thirty species of tilia ( The scientific name of Basswood) and this quality might vary depending on the species and growing conditions. The food potential for Basswood makes it a desirable tree for those who might live in areas with limitations on gardening since it’s mainly grown as landscaping. A single tree planted as landscaping probably won’t feed you all year round but the option of collecting the flowers for a high quality tea could provide a source of enjoyment and give you that sense of accomplishment that all gardeners have.

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