Lime or Linden – A Foraging Guide to Its Food, Medicine and Other Uses

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Common Lime (Tilia x europaea) is a sweet-scented blossoming tree that brings a generous crop of nectar for bees and lime-flavoured honey for beekeepers every summer.

All lime trees in the species Tilia are unrelated to the species of tree that produces lime fruit (Citrus aurantifolia).

Scientific name

Tilia spp.

Family

Malvaceae.

Botanical description

Common lime trees grow up to 40 m. The bark is smooth with a thick, fibrous texture and the leaves are large, dark green and heart-shaped with a paler underside. The tree blossoms in small clusters of creamish yellow flowers, which are heavily scented and attractive to bees. The fruit are oval-shaped and ribbed with pointed tips.

Status

Perennial. Native.

Habitat

Deciduous woodland, hedgerows, scrub.

Parts used for food

Flowers and leaves.

Harvest time

Spring to Autumn.

Food uses

The flowers and leaves make a pleasantly soothing herbal tea. Dried lime flowers were once stocked in many French households to make Tilleul.1

The flowers also flavour liqueurs, lemonade and cordial.2 The leaves can be picked for salads and sandwiches.3

Nutritional profile

Mature lime leaves were dried into a food supplement and used as a nutritious gruel during the occupation of France in the second world war.4

Lime recipes

Herbal medicine uses

Lime leaves have been used as a herbal remedy since ancient times. The leaves were said to increase urination, regulate menstrual cycles, dissolve blood clots, cure boils, treat wounds in the mouth, and relieve swollen feet.5 Lime sap was once used as a cure for baldness.5

Other uses

Lime wood has been used to make toys, instruments and household utensils.5

Cautions

There are few known side effects of using common lime in food and medicine, but moderation is always advised. Seek advice from a medical professional before using the tree as a herbal remedy. 

The safety of consuming or using lime tree products during pregnancy or when breast feeding has not been sufficiently established and, therefore, it’s best avoided.

About the author

Robin HarfordRobin Harford is a plant-based forager, ethnobotanical researcher, and wild food educator. He is the author of Edible and Medicinal Wild Plants of Britain and Ireland.

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References

  1. Grieve, M. M. (1998) A Modern Herbal. 3rd edition. London: Tiger Books International, PLC.
  2. Wyse Jackson, P. (2013) Ireland’s Generous Nature: The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland. St. Louis, MO: Missouri Botanical Garden Press.
  3. Facciola, S. (1998) Cornucopia II: A Source Book of Edible Plants. Vista, CA: Kampong Publications.
  4. Couplan, F. (1998) The Encyclopedia of Edible Plants of North America. New Canaan, Conn.: Keats Pub.
  5. Cleene, M. D. & Lejeune, M. C. (2003) Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe: Vol I Trees & Shrubs/Vol II Herbs. Ghent: mens & cultuur uitgevers n.v.

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Share your experience. Leave a note for others

  1. We live 4 metres away from a mature lime tree. It’s in full flower today, just perfect for the lime flower cordial recipe in your newsletter. My husband has hay fever, particularly bad at the moment. Would drinking your delicious cordial help him have a resistance to the Lime trees pollen?

    Reply
    • Judy – I don’t know about that. A good hayfever tea is equal parts of plantain (either Plantago major or Plantago lanceolata), elderflower and nettle. Fresh or dried and drunk every day.

      Reply
  2. Hi Robin , The scent is beautiful on this tree , not sure how I could get to pick anything as the trees I’ve seen are huge, ?how do you manage ? . I saw wild honeysuckle yesterday ?

    Reply
  3. Hi there

    I love the sound of this and I would love to make this for my daughter. Are the Himalayan balsam flowers from Japanese knotweed? I cannot get hold of any and I would imagine it is because this plant is considered risky to grow? Would there be an equally beneficial substitute

    Many thanks

    Reply
  4. Hi Robin , The scent is beautiful on this tree , not sure how I could get to pick anything as the trees I’ve seen are huge, ?how do you manage ? . I saw wild honeysuckle yesterday ?

    Reply
  5. Thank you Robin, and for the hayfever tea tip.

    I also have a lime tree about 4 meters from my front door, I live in London and quite near to a busy motorway. I gathered the flowers about 4 weeks ago as they were just beginning to open, and I let them dry, I have since made tea with them. The aroma is absolutely divine, although not much taste I found, maybe I need to use more.
    I want to harvest some more but the flowers look well past their best now with most of the flowers gone and only what looks like the seed pod remaining.

    Reply

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