If you’re familiar with the linden tree, it’s probably for one of three reasons.
- You’ve heard the Greek myth of Baucis gaining immortality when Zeus turned her into a linden tree (and turned her husband Philemon into an oak). For that reason, many believed for centuries that the linden was the mystical tree of life or tree of health, and the tree became a symbol of life and fertility.
- You remember references to the tree in a song sung by Aragon in The Lord of the Rings, in the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Elf of the Rose,” or the stage play “The Linden Tree” from the 1940s.
- Or you’ve read about townspeople dancing under linden trees to celebrate in earlier times.
You may also know the tree, but not its name. From ancient days until today, it’s one of the most common “centerpiece trees” planted in town squares and centers, or used to line main streets, in both Europe and America.
That makes it somewhat fitting that you may also have tried linden honey without knowing it, since it’s only known as linden honey in Asia and most of Europe. In Britain it’s called “lime honey” made from nectar produced by the lime tree, and in North America linden honey is better known as basswood honey harvested from basswood trees. To botanists, linden honey simply comes from one of about 30 plants or trees in the genus Tilia.
No matter what name you use, the tree has been described as the queen of honey plants and the honey is one of the best varieties you can buy.
The Origin and Qualities of Linden Honey
Linden trees are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in regions with temperate climates. In America they’re common in the eastern half of the country, with many linden groves concentrated near the Appalachian Mountains. It is a tall and beautiful tree which often lives for centuries, with large leaves and clusters of small white flowers. Linden flowers bloom from late spring through early summer each year.
The linden trees most commonly seen in the United States are the Tilia Americana and the white basswood. The latter is often referred to as the “bee tree” because it produces so much nectar during humid weather; the nectar can even be visible to the naked eye on linden blossoms if you look early in the morning.
In the right conditions, the linden is an extremely productive honey tree. A single tree’s blossoms can produce as much as 40 pounds of high-quality honey nectar, with honeybees able to collect nearly a full ounce of nectar from each flower.
Surprisingly, the appearance and quality of linden honey doesn’t really vary no matter which type of linden tree the nectar comes from, so linden is usually considered a monofloral honey. Fresh linden honey is either green or clear with a green tint, but as it ages it takes on a more traditional yellow appearance with light amber the most prevalent color. It does have a high glucose-to-fructose content ratio so it will crystallize fairly quickly, but that won’t ruin the quality of the honey (which can be de-crystallized by placing the jar in a warm water bath).
Linden honey has a strong and very distinctive aroma, much stronger than you’d expect from its light color. At first sniff, linden has an unmistakable fresh woodlands smell, and then hints of menthol, camphor or mint emerge.
The honey’s taste is relatively mild, but stronger than you’d expect from its appearance. It’s extremely sweet, with many experts saying linden can compete with heather honey as the sweetest honey you can find. The flavor, however, also comes with woodsy and minty notes, along with a persistent aftertaste which is slightly bitter but definitely not objectionable. Linden honey is far sweeter than orange blossom honey and acacia honey, but doesn’t have the sometimes overpowering flavor of buckwheat or manuka honey.
Put simply, you won’t find another varietal that has the unique, delicious taste of linden honey.
Nutritional Benefits and Uses for Linden Honey
Linden honey provides many more vitamins and minerals than most other varieties of honey. It’s rich (for honey, that is) in vitamin B, vitamin C, biotin and niacin, and its distribution of minerals like zinc, calcium, potassium and magnesium is almost identical to the distribution of those minerals in the human body, making them easily absorbable after being consumed.
Despite its sweetness and high glucose content, linden honey contains approximately the same amounts of carbohydrates and calories as other types of honey: 17 net carbs (almost all from sugar) and 68 calories. That means that despite its other nutritional benefits and its health benefits, it’s a food best enjoyed in moderation.
How do you use Linden honey? Just about any way you can imagine. Its sweetness makes it an ideal ingredient in baking and cooking, perfect for drizzling over breads, breakfast foods or cheese, eaten with yogurt, ice cream or sherbert, or as sweeteners in tea or coffee. Just be sure to use less honey than you’d normally put into a recipe or your tea; the usual suggestion is to use ¾ cup of honey to replace a cup of sugar, but you may need even less linden honey to obtain the same sweetness.
Health Benefits of Linden Honey
Throughout history the leaves of the linden tree have been used as a diaphoretic, inducing a patient with a cold or fever to “sweat it out.” Honey made from the tree’s nectar can be mixed with tea or lemon and used the same way, as a gentler treatment for colds and the flu as well as sore throats. Thanks to raw honey’s natural antiseptic and antibacterial properties, the same treatment is often used for bronchitis and rhinitis, problems involving the gastrointestinal tract like colitis and gastritis, and when a diuretic is called for. Linden honey also has some sedative properties, so it may help with insomnia or stress.
You’ll notice that we specified “raw honey,” and that’s for a very good reason. The health and nutritional benefits we’ve mentioned are only experienced when consuming raw linden honey, since pasteurization and ultra-filtration used to produce honey for the grocery store remove the propolis (bee glue secreted by honey bees) and pollen responsible for its benefits. Heavily-processed honey of any type loses most of the “good stuff” that makes it a healthy food; raw, natural honey is always a better alternative.