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Introducing the Leafy Lime & (why the Brits Are Called Limeys)

Updated on August 6, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

Lime treesbelong to the genus Tilia which consists of around 30 species.However, lime trees tend to hybridise meaning more species may be encountered. In north America the tree is more commonly known as the Linden tree.It must not be confused with Citrus aurantifolia that produces the fruit we know and use in culinary preparations and for sweetening beverages. Indeed that tree belongs to the family Rutaceae, while the limetrees belong to the family Malvaceae. They are regularly planted along roadsides and in parks, they are a popular tree with many people.

Basal growth

lime trees often have shoot growth near the base of the trunk. Photograph by D.A.L.
lime trees often have shoot growth near the base of the trunk. Photograph by D.A.L.

Basic Botany of the Lime Tree

There are three common species in the U.K. the common or European lime, the large leaved lime, and the small leaved lime, along with associated hybrids. here I will endeavour to describe the small leaved lime, for it is , in the main, this species that is widely used in medicine, and has found favour with herbalists. This species has acquired the Latin name of Tilia cordata. It is a deciduous tree which may attain the height of 38 metres or so.When growing in the open they have relatively short trunks. This is redressed by them having a large spreading canopy which is domed in form. However, where they have grown in close stands the trunk is taller and the canopy much less spreading.

The bark is smooth when young but soon attains vertical ridges which often develop into plates. The bark at this stage being of a dark grey or blackish colour.Limetree often have shoot like growths at the base of the trunk {see photograph above} Lime tree delight to grow in native woods and on deep fertile, base rich soil.

LEAVES---the leaves are arranged alternately and are heart shaped hence the species name of cordata. They taper abruptly into a sharp point. They are 3-6cm long. The leaf stalks 15-30mm long.These stalks are hairless. The margins of the leaf blade are sharply toothed. The underside of the foliage has a grey-green colour. A distinguishing feature on the under surface is they have tiny tufts of rusty, or brown coloured hairs which are situated at the junctions of the veins. The upper surface is green and shiny and there are no hairs.

Flowers- the flowers which emerge after the leaves have unfurled have five petals of a yellowish white colour. 10-12mm across. They are strongly scented appearing in clusters of 3-16. They are fused with linear tongue shaped bracts. The sepals are 3mm long. They appear from June and July. They are succeeded by little fruits a little larger than the size of a pea. They are slightly globular in form and 5-8mm across. They are quite hard , green at first, becoming grey green as they mature and more woody in nature. They fall from their arboreal mothers during the period from late September until October, along with their leafy bracts. The fruits are have small "wings" which aid their dispersal. cattle appear to be fond of the fruits which contain just a single seed. The trees are coppiced in many parts of the country.

Urban Lime

Lime trees are widely planted along road sides, like this fine specimen here. Photograph by D.A.L.
Lime trees are widely planted along road sides, like this fine specimen here. Photograph by D.A.L.
lime leaf
lime leaf

History and Uses of the Lime Tree.

The lime tree is the national emblem of Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic where it is known as lipa. In Germany the tree has symbolic roots in mythology as a tree of peace and the tree of lovers.

While softly rings,

The evenings cool wind.

above me the holy lime

shakes its branches.

Words from a poem by Maiam un singu dor, called One Wish Alone Have I.

The wood is easily worked and especially good for carving, being very light in nature. The sculpture -carver, Gibbons 1648-1721, did most of his carving of the flowers and figures in St, Paul's Cathedral utilising lime wood.

It is employed in the making of piano keys and organs. Guitar and drum bodies.

In north America it is often called by its alternative name of Basswood. The name derives from the inner bark called bast. This inner bark produces a strong fibre. that has been utilised in a diverse production of products ranging from clothes, fishing nets , and baskets.

The wood being light and not prone to warping once stabilised was utilised in the making of wooden window blinds. It also makes a very useful charcoal.

MEDICINAL USES.---Lime contains a fragrant volatile ol which is colourless, Tannins, Flavonoides and mucilage. The bark contains a glucoside {tilicin}.

Honey from lime flowers is regarded as being the most useful.and almost exclusively used in herbal medicine and liqueurs.

Lime was used to treat fevers by inducing sweating and for flu like symptoms. As a tea it is used for aiding digestion, treating insomnia and is thought to lessen high blood pressure. In homoepathy it is used for rheumatism, hay fever, and allergic skin complaints.

The bark was used to treat gout, coronary heart disease and kidney stone.

Lime water is good for use as a skin tonic.

WHY ARE THE BRITS CALLED LIMEYS?--The answer alludes to the days of the old sailing ships that undertook long voyages. Because of a lack of fresh frit the sailors of the time suffered greatly from scurvy through a lack of vitamin C. To counteract this they British sailors took with them on their voyages limes which is rich in vitamn C. Thus he nickname of Limeys arose.

Stand of lime

A stand of lime trees. Photograph by D.A.L.
A stand of lime trees. Photograph by D.A.L.
an ancient trunk or bole of a lime tree.
an ancient trunk or bole of a lime tree.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      GRMadaraas, how kind of you to visit and taking the time to convey your experiences. Congratulations { sorry its late} on your birthday I hope you have many many more. Best wishes to you.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Growing up in a Hungarian family I becam familiar of the Harsfa or Linden tree. The decriptionals of the tea from the dried flowers is correct. I grew up on out farm and became the flower picker every summer. Mom dries and sacked them to hang in our attic and made a lot of tea during the winter months when flu and colds ran ampart. Mother made the medicinal drink thusly. First a good stong tea made when the ill person was ready to retire. She made a mixture of 50% tea and 50% of Dad's homemade wine and the ailing individual drank this just befor retiring. It was amazing to see the partaker in the morning, because most of the time the infection had been stopped.

      I understsnd the tea was used for other ailments, but my strongest memory was the above mixture. Yes, I was a recipient of this treament and its curative abilities.Heck, maybe it was part of the reason for my longevity> On July 9 I will be starting my 93rd year of life and still feel pretty good. , 6/30/11Thanks for the opportunty to learn more via your articles. George Madaras

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      lelanew55, thank you for the visit and for taking the time to comment. Glad you have found the trees to be interesting, they are indeed lovely trees.

    • lelanew55 profile image


      8 years ago

      Lovely trees and I learned so much about them and their medicinal uses. Thanks DAL.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Rose, thank you for your kind comments appreciated.

      Sally, the limes were obtained from the British Caribbean colonies. The limes were more often used in the form of lime juice on these voyages. Thank you , also, for your appreciated comments. Linden tea is a very healthy beverage.

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I had no idea the lime is also known as the basswood and the linden as well.

      It amazes me, always, how local nomenclature can confuse one's understanding of identifying plants. When I read your title, the first thought I had was, "Hey! I didn't know limes grew in England. I thought they were a tropical plant."

      Well, your Hub is a real eye-opener.

      Not only is the basswood (linden) very common here, it is recognized instantly by Old World naturalists (such as a wonderful neighbor of mine from Hungary) as the source of linden tea. When this neighbor came to this country, she saw these trees growing on our streets and eventually introduced me to linden tea, made from the flowers the bees love. She had another name for these trees that were common in her country, which I don't remember.

      One question remains about those "limeys". I can understand how they provisioned themselves with limes before their voyage to the old world from the new, but where in England did they get those limes to stock up for the trip going the other way?

      Your last photo is impressive. This is the boled trunk I remember from that neighborhood where my Hungarian friend introduced me to linden tea.

      Awesome Hub, voted up as such.

    • Rose Kolowinski profile image

      Rose Kolowinski 

      8 years ago

      Always wondered why you were called Limeys! I have always liked the Linden and Basswoods trees here and they do look similar to your Lime tree. Very nice, educational hub!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      msorensson, thank you for visiting again and for your comment.

      cainelahliz, nice to meet you. Thank you for your appreciated comments.

    • cainelahliz profile image


      8 years ago

      Fantastic! I never knew that and I love the beautiful scenery pictures.

    • msorensson profile image


      8 years ago

      Educational, thanks!!


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