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Friday, December 11, 2015

Basswood (Linden or Lime) Honey, The Bee Folks, Mount Airy, MD

I wasn’t familiar with basswood honey before I saw and bought it on the Bee Folks (lovely) website. The Bee Folks started in 1997 as a back yard operation in a suburb of Baltimore. In 2004 they moved to Poplar Springs on the outskirts of Mount Airy, Maryland where they expanded their operation. They continue to be a small, family owned and operated company that produces and distributes a variety of high quality, and not so easy to find, honey. I've blogged about a few of their honeys (see entries for Carrot, Cotton, Almond and Radish honeys) and have always found the quality to be great.

Not surprisingly the floral source for basswood honey is the blossoms of the basswood tree. However, I had never heard of the basswood tree. In fact, it is also, and probably better known as, the linden tree. I've heard (and can identify) a linden tree. Going forward I’ll refer to the tree as “linden” since it is more commonly known this way. There are about 30 varieties of linden trees, all within the Tilia species.

Tilia americana
(American Linden or Basswood tree)
Since my basswood honey is from the US it is likely to be from Tilia americana (the second likely candidate is Tilia heterophylla). Tilia americana is native to eastern North America (from Manitoba to New Brunswick, south to northern Texas to South Carolina, and west to Nebraska. Of interest, Tilia americana is known for being one of the most difficult native North American trees to propagate from seed, with only 30% of all seeds being viable. Thankfully, the tree often relies on self-coppicing (i.e. propagation via new growths emanating via shoots and sprouts  from stumps), to propagate rather than by seeds. 

The honey is called “basswood” or “linden” honey in North America, and “lime” honey in the UK and Europe. Basswood is derived from “bast” the name for the inner fibrous bark of the tree (incidentally used by the Ainu people of Japan to weave their traditional clothing, the attus, and also used in basket and mat weaving). One of the Linden species common in Europe (and parts of Russia and China) is the Tilia cordata, a small-leaved variety that is also called “Lime,” hence “Lime” honey.  “Lime” is apparently an altered form of Middle English “lind.” This Tilia is not related to the lime fruit or lime trees (Citrus aurantifolia). This, to me, makes referring to Tilia honey as "Lime" honey very confusing!

The native range of Tilia Americana (from:

Bees love Tilia blossoms. The tiny, yellow-white flowers bloom in clusters (i.e. drooping inflorescences) and exude a fragrant aroma that has been described as “ambrosial.” Ants and aphids also love this tree because of its rich supply of sap. They “farm” the sap, which does not seem to cause any serious damage to the tree, leaving a syrupy honeydew residue on anything (e.g. a car) below the tree (so be warned). 

At the peak of the season (late spring to mid-summer) the blossoms produce so much nectar that it can be seen as a shiny deposit on the blooms. Bees swarm the trees during this time giving the linden tree the informal name of “bee” tree.

Tilia Americana blossoms
Linden trees are long-lived (possible lifespan of up to 2,000 years for some species!), tall (20-40 meters), handsome trees with a dense head of abundant foliage that have often been planted in European town centers or along city streets. One of the oldest known linden trees, estimated to be 2,000 years old, can be found in the Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire. Empress Cunigunde, the wife of Henry II, planted a linden tree in 1,000 A.D. in the courtyard of the Imperial Castle at Nuremberg that is still alive and well. In addition an 850 year old linden tree, the Rut linden tree, is found in Slovenia beside a church in the mountain village of Rut. The Tilia americana, however, is generally not so long-lived with a lifespan of up to 200 years.

Linden trees have been mentioned in many ancient texts. Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23 to A.D. 79) wrote about them. There is also a Roman myth about Baucis and Philemon who were granted eternity together as a linden and an oak tree (see the lovely painting by GC Myers depicting the lovers in their intertwined tree-ness).

Baucis & Philemon by GC Myers

Linden timber is soft and easily worked, and used for furniture making, model building and carving. It was one of the classic woods for sculpture in the Middle Ages (e.g. altarpieces) and for puppet-making. Given its acoustic properties it is also used for making instruments (e.g. bodies for wind instruments and solid body electric guitars). Of interest it was often used by Germanic tribes for making shields. Unfortunately, in the U.S., due to the destruction of softwood forests for the furniture industry, basswood/linden stands are not as common as they once were making this honey sometimes hard to find.
Linden honey has been used medicinally. In hot tea or in lemon juice it has been used to treat colds and laryngitis, and sooth sore throats. It has also been used to treat minor skin sores and burns, and eczema topically. Linden flowers can be used to make an herbal tea, and also to treat colds, cough and fevers. Of interest the flowers have been added to hot bath water to “quell hysteria.”

basswood (linden) honey
Linden honey, no matter from what type of linden tree, is reported to taste pretty much the same. When very fresh it has a greenish color, but can range from clear to amber. My honey is more on the amber spectrum. I can't detect much of a smell, although I've seen its aroma described elsewhere as "woody." It is medium thickness, clear and smooth. It isn't overly sweet and the taste, a fresh, citrus, menthol, camphor taste, is consistent throughout. It reminds me slightly of a lemon/lime flavored cough drop. The aftertaste is slightly acidic/bitter, sort of lemony/limey. I can see why some describe the flavor as "green." I think basswood/linden honey would go well in hot cereal, on hot buttered toast, or in hot tea. I've heard that it goes nicely with Earl Grey tea and would agree. The bergamot of the tea and citrus of the honey would be complementary.  

While I got my honey on The Bee Folk website, I see that they no longer have it available. I'm hoping this is a temporary situation. In any case it is a reminder that if you see a honey that is a bit unusual you should take advantage!


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