Herb: American Basswood

Latin name: Tilia americana

Family: Tiliaceae (Linden Family)

Medicinal use of American Basswood:

A tea made from the inner bark is applied to burns - it soothes and softens the skin. It is taken internally in the treatment of lung complaints, dysentery, heart burn and weak stomach. The bark is diuretic. An infusion has been taken to promote urination. A decoction of the bark, mixed with cornmeal, has been used as a poultice to draw out boils. A tea made from the fresh or dried flowers is antispasmodic, diaphoretic and sedative. It is used in the treatment of hypertension, hardening of the arteries, digestive complaints associated with anxiety, feverish colds, respiratory catarrh, migraine etc. Lime flowers are said to develop narcotic properties as they age and so they should only be harvested when freshly opened. An infusion of the leaves has been used as an eyewash. A poultice of the leaves has been used in the treatment of burns and scalds, broken bones and swollen areas. A tea or tincture made from the leaves, flowers and buds has traditionally been used for nervous headaches, restlessness and painful digestion. Use with caution, see notes above on toxicity. A decoction of the roots and the bark has been taken in the treatment of internal haemorrhaging. A decoction of the roots has been used as a vermifuge to rid the body of worms.

Description of the plant:


25 m
(82 feet)


Habitat of the herb:

Rich, often moist, soils of woods and bottomlands, often forming pure stands.

Edible parts of American Basswood:

Young leaves - raw or cooked. A mild flavour and a tender but mucilaginous texture, they are very nice in salads. The leaves can be cooked as greens. Sap - obtained from next to the bark and used as a refreshing drink. It can also be concentrated into a syrup and used as a sweetener. Flowers - raw. They can be added to salads. The flowers are used as a tea substitute. They are sweet and fragrant. A very good chocolate substitute is made from a paste of the ground fruits and flowers. Trials on marketing the product failed because the paste decomposes readily.

Other uses of the herb:

A tough fibre is obtained from the inner bark. The bark is soaked in water then boiled. It is then rubbed on a stick to separate the fibres which can then be used for making thread for sewing, fine yarn for weaving bags, clothing etc and cordage for making nets, shoes, twine, mats etc. A fairly wind resistant tree, it can be grown as part of a shelterbelt planting. Wood - soft, straight grained, light, weak, not durable, easily worked, resistant to splitting, it holds nails badly, holds glue, paint and lacquer well, seasons well but shrinks considerably. It weighs 28lb per cubic foot, is odourless and bland-tasting. A commercially important timber in its native range. The white wood is excellent for turning and carving, it is used for making woodenware such as spoons, cheap furniture, pulp etc.

Propagation of American Basswood:

Seed - much of the seed produced in Britain is not viable, cut a few seedcases open to see if there is a seed inside. If possible, obtain fresh seed that is ripe but has not as yet developed a hard seed coat and sow it immediately in a cold frame. It may germinate in the following spring though it could take 18 months. Stored seed can be very slow to germinate. It has a hard seed coat, embryo dormancy and a hard coat on the pericarp. All these factors mean that the seed may take up to 8 years to germinate. One way of shortening this time is to stratify the seed for 5 months at high temperatures (10C at night, up to 30C by day) and then 5 months cold stratification. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Layering in spring just before the leaves unfurl. Takes 1 - 3 years. Suckers, when formed, can be removed with as much root as possible during the dormant season and replanted immediately.

Cultivation of the herb:

Rich, often moist, soils of woods and bottomlands, often forming pure stands.

Known hazards of Tilia americana:

Frequent consumption of the tea made from the flowers may cause heart damage.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.