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Friday, December 23, 2011

EUROPEAN OR COMMON LIME TREE - BUT NO LIMES FROM THIS TREE: HISTORY, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF THE LIME TREE


EUROPEAN OR COMMON LIME, TILIA EUROPAEA 
Despite its name this tree does not produce limes which come from Citrus aurantifolia species of tree. It does, however produce greeny-yellow flowers which attract bees with their powerful aroma and we have great honey from them. The tree does produce small fruit but these are not eaten although they are edible.
  The flowers and the immature fruit, when ground to a paste form a chocolate substitute, but as the paste decomposes it is not manufactured. If you live near a lime tree you will know that when the flowers fall they leave a sticky mess as they are quickly victims of a fungus. All this is perfectly naturally but slimy and slippery, so walk carefully under lime trees in August. In the UK the flowers blossom in July but in warmer parts of Europe they blossom earlier.
  There are trees of the Tilia genus which have been growing in the British Isles for thousands of years, although they may not be natives, but this genus is a hybrid, crossed between Tilia cordata and Tilia platyphyllos. The lime trees still flourishing in stately avenues in Britain may have been growing since the 17th century and were imported from the Netherlands. It was the fashion for stately homes to have a walk lined with lime trees in the 17th and 18th centuries. These trees can grow to heights of 130 feet (40metres) and may live for up to a thousand years (although there are probably exceptions which have been around for longer).
  A sticky sap exudes from the bark of these trees which has been likened to Biblical manna, and this has been used to make drinks and to make a syrup which is used as a natural sweetener, like honey. Stevia leaves are sweet too of course, but the leaves of the lime tree are not. They can be combined with the flowers and made into a tisane which has been traditionally used to aid digestion and also given in cases of hysteria, when prolonged baths were also advised, with the bath water infused with lime flowers.
  Wood from this tree is good for carving and examples of this can be viewed in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Chatham House and Windsor Castle, all the work of Grinley Gibbons. The wood is white, close-grained and easy to carve, allowing the artist to carve intricate designs in it. It has been used in the past to make parts of musical instruments such as the piano.
  The flowers contain a volatile oil and the leaves exude a sugary substance, and can be used fresh or dried, although fresh is considered best. They are marketed as Linden tea, and the tree is sometimes referred to as the Linden tree, especially in Germany, where “linde” means rope. In the case of this tree it refers to the fact that prior to the invention of synthetic materials, the inner bark of the tree which is very fibrous could be made into matting and it can also be made into beige-coloured paper as well as cloth.
  If you make a tisane with the flowers, make sure that they are young ones, as the older ones seem to have narcotic properties.
  The young leaves and shoots may be eaten raw in salads, and with the flowers have been used in traditional medicine to get rid of the symptoms of colds and flu and as a diaphoretic to promote sweating in fevers. They are also thought to have properties which will prevent the hardening of arteries and lower high blood pressure.
  There have been very few clinical trials on this plant and its virtues, but it appears that parts of the tree may have antispasmodic, astringent, diuretic and sedative properties - the last making it good for hysteria of course.
  

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