Edible Wild Plants: Basswood or Linden (Tiliaceae), The Chocolate Substitute

Basswood or Linden TreeThere are only three genera of plants in eastern North America which have achieved any fame as substitutes for chocolate. The most important of these is the Basswood or Linden, the young fruit of which when mashed has a chocolate-odor or flavor; in fact so promising was the Linden-fruit as a source of cocoa, at various times in European history, extended experiments were made with the hope of producing a marketable product.

Although the European experimenters eventually abandoned the problem, they suggested that in North America, where there are different species of Linden, the experiments might prove successful.

Early explorers in Carolina stated that, from the Dwarf Chestnut or Chinquapin was prepared a “Chocolate, not much inferior to that made from Cacoa”; while some enthusiasts claim that a delicious chocolate drink may be prepared from the roof of the Purple Avens.

The three chocolate-substitutes are Basswood/Linden (young nuts), Chinquapin (nuts), and Purple Avens (roots).

Basswood Leaves and Young Buds

Today we will be highlighting the Basswood/Linden but during this week we will also highlight the Chinquapin and Purple Avens as wild edible plants.

Edible Parts

  • Young leaves
  • Buds (Flowers)
  • Seeds
  • Sap
  • Cambium (Bast or Inner Bark)

Uses

The sap of the Basswood / Lindens is said to contain a considerable amount of sugar, but the most striking use of these trees is in the preparation of a substitute for chocolate. It has long been known in Europe, where it was first discovered by a French chemist, Missa, that the fruits of the Linden ground with some of the flowers furnish a paste which in texture and taste “perfectly” resembles chocolate. Various attempts have been made in Europe to produce this chocolate-substitute on a commercial scale but, owing to the liability of the paste to decomposition, all have proved impracticable.

The most conspicuous case was in the time of Frederick the Great, when that monarch engaged a German chemist to check the work of Missa. The results were entirely satisfactory but, as above stated, it was found that the new chocolate would not keep.

“On this Ventenat (a distinguised French botanist of the time) remarks, that, if the subject had been pursued a little further, and the fruits of some of the American species of limes (Lindens) taken, the success would probably have been complete.” So here is a great opportunity for a young American entrepreneur in eastern United States!

Also according to Waugh and some other writers on Native American foods, the Iroquois chewed the bast in the spring as a masticatory, and also the young buds in the spring as a thirst-quencher. The bast (inner bark) has also been recommended as a possible emergency-food.

Flower buds in early June.

Flower buds in early June.

The deliciously fragrant flowers of the Lindens have been popular in many countries as a substitute for tea, the tea prepared from them being “soft, well-flavored, and sweet,” so much so that Porcher, writer for the Southern Confederate families, said: “I would particularly recommend a larger use of these flowers in the Confederate States. It can be used wherever tea is required.”

Other uses are cordage from bark, but the wood is not a good firewood.

Where Does Basswood or Linden (Tiliaceae) Grow?

Basswood Growing Area

How To Identify Basswood or Linden (Tiliaceae)

Basswood Identification

Size and Form

A form of Basswood bark; more ridged. Sort of resembles that of Red Oak.

A form of Basswood bark; more ridged. Sort of resembles that of Red Oak.

Most basswood trees mature to be from 50 to 80 feet high and as wide as 50 feet. Basswood trunks usually develop to be straight. The tree will have an oval shape or an irregular one, according to the University of Connecticut Plant Database.

Leaves

Young leaves in the spring (mid-May)

Young leaves in the spring (mid-May)

Basswood leaves are heart-shaped with a distinct, short tip. The foliage is deciduous and grows on the twigs in an alternate pattern. Basswood leaves are from 4 to 8 inches long, green on the upper surfaces and a pale shade of green on the undersides. The leaves of a basswood possess serrations along their edges. Basswood leaves lack brilliant fall colors, typically turning yellowish or brown.

Other features

The dull yellow, aromatic flowers of basswood bloom during June, attracting so many bees that you hear them humming as they buzz about the tree, notes the Missouri Botanical Garden. The bark of basswood is smooth and dark gray on younger trees, but it becomes full of furrows and ridges with age.

3 Comments

3 Responses to “Edible Wild Plants: Basswood or Linden (Tiliaceae), The Chocolate Substitute”

  1. Brenda says:

    This may also be of interest to you. Tilia species make awesome honey. In fact it is a delicacy.

    http://www.honeytraveler.com/single-flower-honey/linden-lime-basswood-honey/

    • Emergency Outdoors says:

      Brenda,

      Thank you very much for the additional information on Basswood/Linden. Great to know that it makes awesome honey!

      Matt @ EmergencyOutdoors.com

  2. colette says:

    Do you know when would be a good time of the year to harvest the buds to try to make a chocolate substitute? Now or the spring? Thanks for all this great information!

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