Tuesday, April 06, 2010

American Hardwoods: Basswood

From German folklore, the "tree of lovers" is a symbolic and hallowed lime tree (known in the US as Basswood) and was believed by the ancients to hold sacred powers that could unearth the truth. In rural Germany, public trials and court appearances were frequently held sub tilia (Under the lime-tree).

A medieval love poem by W. von der Volgelweide ( 1170-1230) begins with a reference to the lime tree:

Under the lime tree

on the open field

where we two had our bed

you still can see lovely both

broken flowers and grass

on the edge of the woods in a vale


sweetly sang the nightingale

In Europe, lime trees have been known to live for centuries, with a coppice in Gloucestershire that has been estimated at 2,000 years old. A well known lime lives in the courtyard of the Imperial Castle at Nuremburg, looking ancient and infirm. Tradition says was planted by the Empress Cunigune (wife of Henry II of Germany) and 900 years later was sending forth 'thrifty' leaves on it's two or three remaining branches.

Basswood are large, deciduous trees that reach 70 - 100 feet tall, with oblique-cordate leaves in a bountiful, dense head of foliage. The leaves of Basswood are heart-shaped and asymmetric and the tiny fruit (looks like peas) hang attached to a ribbon-like, greenish bract. The nectar-producing flowers make Basswoods important honey plants for beekeepers, producing a ver y pale but richly flavored monofloral honey.

The limeflowers, leaves, wood and charcoal are used in medicine for treatment of colds, coughs, fever, infections, inflammation, high blood pressure, headache/migraine, and sedative. The plant contains tannins that can act as an astringent and active ingredients used as antioxidants, voliatle oils.

The International World War Peace Tree is a basswood on the southwestern edge of Darmstadt, Indiana - serving as a reminder of Germany's armistice with the United States. Brought to the US in 1912 as a seedling by Joseph Freudenburg (prior to World War I) and finally planted in 1918 at his sister-in-laws property when the armistice was signed.

Basswood is prefered species in my craft, woodburning. It's softness and bright tone lends itself for contrast, sharpness and for delicate shading.

Our next installment of American Hardwoods is Birch. Please visit Edge of the Wildwood to learn all about wood, and to share your thoughts on the AH series:)

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