Imagine yourself sitting under a beautiful tall green tree. The soft summer breeze gently ripples through its shiny heart-shaped leaves.
High overhead, you can hear honey bees lazily buzzing in and out of its perfumed flowers. The shade is cooling and the scent has a calming effect. You feel relaxed and alive and aware of its healing energy.
This is the linden tree. Sometimes if grows 130 feet high, and produces some of the most powerful herbal medicine known to humans. You may even have one of these trees on your street because they are planted widely in cities, and are fairly common in the countryside throughout Ontario where they are usually known as basswood.
In fact there are several names for this important tree. Sometimes the flowers are called lime blossoms. The French know it as tilleul and its scientific name is Tilia europoea or americana. The blossoms are creamy white in clusters of five, on long stalks with a long greenish keel or bract (like the “wing” of a maple seed) beside each cluster. It is these flowers that are so widely used in Europe to make a herbal tea or infusion — one that is actually so pleasant to taste that you can order it after a gourmet meal in a five-star French restaurant. And no wonder, since linden tea is a very effective digestive remedy. Even the honey made from linden blossoms is said to be health-restoring; it is much sought after and considered to be the best flavoured and most valuable in the world. The honey is also made into medicine as well as delicious liqueurs.
A RELAXING ANTI-STRESS REMEDY
Linden flowers have always been used in herbal medicine as a calming, relaxing remedy for the nervous system. This is one of those safe herbal teas that can be taken by almost anyone and consumed over a long period of time. When you substitute linden tea for your coffee, you will soon feel a great reduction in stress levels. It is a gentle relaxant especially effective for anyone suffering from nervous irritability. This is because the flowers contain an essential oil composed partly of an alcohol sesquiterpene called farnesol which is antispasmodic and sedative. The tea has been used without harm even for small children, and in Europe a calming bath is made for overwrought infants by adding a strong linden infusion to their bath water.
Children also benefit from the diaphoretic activity when it is given to them during influenza or severe colds. (A diaphoretic promotes sweating, using the skin as an organ of elimination.) There also seems to be an anti-catarrhal effect; one American study has demonstrated that the use of linden flowers for children in the early stages of a respiratory illness will prevent the inner ear infections that often follow.
PREVENTION OF CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE
The relaxing effect of linden is particularly felt on the cardiovascular system, especially when there is arteriosclerosis or hypertension (high blood pressure) present. (Linden is hypotensive; it lowers blood pressure.) The British herbalist, Simon Mills, author of Out of the Earth, the Essential Book of Herbal Medicine, points out that linden blossoms have a healing and restorative effect upon the blood vessel walls — one that extends even to the improvement of varicose veins.
A leading French authority on phytotherapy, Henri Leclerc described the effect on the blood as rendering it more fluid, less viscous (thick) and less likely to coagulate. Linden also prevents adherence of plaque to the blood vessel walls, along with the whole list of complications that result from that process. Other French authorities on phytotherapy, Drs. Duraffourd and Lapraz, assert that the flowers act as a plaque anti-aggregant, and Bezanger-Beauquesne gives clinical evidence of mild coronary vasodilation. This means that the arteries inside the heart which provide the heart muscle’s vital supply of blood are less likely to become blocked. In this way, linden prevents constriction of the blood, making strokes less likely.
Hundreds of tonnes of linden flowers are consumed in France each year. Along with the widespread consumption of garlic, olives and red wine in the Mediterranean countries, Linden is a likely contributor to the lower occurrence of heart disease in this region.
Of course, caution is needed by anyone taking blood thinners, conventional medicine for high blood pressure, or other heart medications, because linden can potentiate (amplify) the effects of those pharmaceuticals. Careful monitoring would be needed by your cardiologist if you wanted to drink linden tea regularly. But as a preventive, there is probably no better herb for maintaining the smooth inner lining of the blood vessel walls and assuring that stress does not affect the even flow of circulation of the blood.
Like so many herbs, linden has several additional medicinal benefits. Many women use linden during menopause to offset nervousness and sleep disorders. Rina Nissim, the Swiss phytotherapist and specialist on women’s health, recommends linden to alleviate unpleasant symptoms before periods and at ovulation.
There is a lot of mucilage in linden flowers. This gives them a soothing, healing quality when the infusion comes into contact with the membranes of the digestive system. This demulcent action combined with the relaxing factor has led to the use of the tea for diarrhoea and indigestion.
RESTORING THE LIVER
One of the most remarkable therapeutic effects of linden is on the liver. In this case, it is the inner bark or sapwood of the tree that is used. The French have a phyto-pharmaceutical specialty called “aubier de Tilleul de Roussillon,” Roussillon being a region in the south of France where it is thought that the very best linden trees grow. The sapwood is sometimes used in England to treat kidney stones and gout. But in France it is considered an important liver remedy because it has a mild choleretic action (stimulating the flow of bile through the liver) which assures non-aggressive drainage of the liver. This is the key to natural self-restoration of the liver.
In France it is also known to be effective in treating viral hepatitis, and patients with hepatitis C have shown very positive results after using it for some time. Over the course of treatment, raised liver enzyme levels were carefully monitored and showed considerable diminishment — almost to normal. Other plants with anti-viral activity were used as well, but the importance of linden bark is its non-aggressive action. When there is liver disease, many conventional pharmaceuticals are simply too toxic for the liver to process. Herbal medicine excels in treatments for the liver — all of them bitter remedies which work to decongest and restore this essential organ that protects us from the effects of pollution and chemicals in our food and the environment.
HOW TO USE LINDEN
It is easy to make linden tea. You can obtain the dried flowers from a health food store or herb shop and they are even available in tea bags. Use a heaping teaspoonful (2-4 g) of the crushed flowers (with the bract) per cup of boiling water. As with all herbal teas, it is important not to allow the steam to escape. This is crucial when using linden flowers because the relaxing properties depend on volatile oils which can easily evaporate and be lost in the steam. That’s why you should carefully cover the tea pot or make linden tea in a jar with a screw top lid. If you are in a restaurant, you can place your saucer over the cup containing the tea bag while the flowers are steeping. They should be steeped for about 10 minutes. Drink three cups each day for an indefinite period. A typical course of treatment would last three months.
The tincture is also available as a 1:5 preparation in 25% alcohol. Dose should be 2-4 mils taken three times a day. You can also use a fluid extract (1:1) in 25% alcohol and the dose is 2-4 mils three times a day.
Preparing the sapwood is a little different. There are no volatile oils to worry about here because the active constituents are beta-sterol, stigmasterol, fatty acids and linolenic-acids. These require considerable boiling to release them from the finely chopped wood. Normally a decoction is prepared by simmering in an open pot 30 to 40 grams of the wood in 1 litre of water for enough time that the liquid is reduced to 1/2 its original volume. This makes enough to drink in one or two days. Duraffourd and Lapraz recommend drinking great quantities the first few days — up to 3 litres a day — and then continuing at a more moderate dosage of 1-2 glasses a day until recovery has taken place.
The sap wood can be purchased or ordered from some health food stores in Ontario but it is more readily available in Montreal if you have difficulty finding it here.
COLLECTING YOUR OWN LINDEN FLOWERS
Collecting linden is a pleasant summer day’s occupation. It should be done between 10 a.m. and noon before the hot sun has caused the evaporation of the essential oils. Try to avoid blossoms that are covered with dust. You can time your collection to a day or two after rain. The flowers themselves must be fully opened and dry. Remember that if you are gathering them, you may be allergic to the abundant pollen they contain and so wearing sunglasses and even a dust mask might be helpful. Once collected, the flowers with keel attached should be spread out on a clean sheet or paper towels out of the sun until dry. You will have to turn them over every day. Once brittle, you can store them in jars with tight fitting lids or sealed paper bags.