Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Small leaved lime tree (Tilia cordata)

The small leaved lime tree (Tilia cordata) is a deciduous tree from the Malvaceae or mallow family. Also known as the small leaved European lime, small-leaved linden, linden tree, littleleaf linden, basswood and winter linden. It is one of about thirty different Tilia species that grows throughout the northern temperate regions of the world including Asia, Europe and eastern North America. In the British Isles it is one of the longest lived native trees and is considered an indicator of ancient woodland.

An image of lime (Tilia cordata) leaves
Lime leaves (T. cordata)

Growing methods

Trees can be propagated by layering, grafting, cuttings, suckers or seed. Lime trees sprout very easily from cut and fallen branches. If they touch the ground, they may root and produce vertical shoots. This is known as 'strategy of persistence' and prolongs their life. It is a good tree for coppicing, pollarding or pleaching.

While trees can be propagated by seed, much of the seed produced by trees in the British Isles, particularly in the northern regions, will likely be sterile and those that are viable may take a very long time to germinate. Fresh seed may germinate easier since dried seeds develop a hard coating. It is best to stratify seeds and subject them to cold before sowing.

Bearing beautiful heart shaped leaves, the small-leaved lime grows to around 30 metres high with an 8 metre spread. Small fragrant creamy white flowers, together with a leafy bract or wing, appear in clusters from June to July and the seeds ripen in October. It prefers full sun or partial shade. It will grow in a wide range of soil types but will thrive more in a deep moist fertile soil with an alkaline or neutral pH. Place organic mulch around the base to feed the tree and keep in the moisture. Once established, it requires very little care and attention. It can be planted in urban landscapes and will tolerate difficult conditions including pollution but not salty conditions.

It generally remains a healthy tree and doesn't suffer unduly from pests or diseases. Although may be affected by aphids, caterpillars from various moth species and some fungal diseases.

An illustration of the various parts of the lime tree (Tilia cordata)
Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen

Other uses

Lime flowers have long been used as a folk remedy for many illnesses including relief during the early stages of colds, flu and childhood fevers. Flowers have a calming effect and can be used to aid digestion, insomnia, headaches from high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries and muscular weakness of the eyes.

The wood can be used for charcoal, fibre (rope, cloth), firewood, paper, posts, poles, baskets and other crafts. It is one of the softest hardwoods and can be easily carved. The tree will attract beneficial insects and is particularly good for bees due to the abundance of nectar.

Raw edible parts

The young heart shaped leaves of all Tilia species are generally considered edible raw but the small leaved lime is probably the best. Leaves have a good texture and mild slightly sweet flavour. They are excellent in salads and can be used in much the same way as a lettuce or be used to make pesto. Leaves can also be dried and made into a flour. If the tree is coppiced or pollarded it will produce an abundance of branches and young leaves for the table.

The young lime flowers are edible raw and can be made into a fragrant calming tea, often sold as linden tea. A chocolate flavoured paste can be made from the immature fruit and flowers. The sap is also edible raw and has a sweet taste.

As a point of interest Green Dean of Eat The Weeds says of Tilia americana that the young leaves, young shoots, buds and cambium (during spring) are edible raw. He says the sap can be boiled down to a syrup but it is likely this is edible raw too.


Take care if using older flowers to make tea as they may be a narcotic. T. cordata bears no relation to the lime (Citrus aurantifolia) which is a citrus fruit.


  1. Hi,
    I am trying to buy some of these plants, would appreciate if somebody can guide me to who should i go to.

  2. If you are in the UK many tree nurseries sell them e.g. treesandhedging.co.uk; ashridgetrees.co.uk; tree-shop.co.uk
    We don't have information on supplies outside the UK at present. Cheers.