The Ultimate Survival Tree That Grows on Almost Every Street in America

Herbal medicine: linden flowers collected for drying on a large plate and an old wooden table

This tree is so popular in the United States that you can see it planted in the streets, in parks, and in residential areas (because of its use as a specimen or for its dense shade). Yet it is primarily native to the Eastern United States. It prefers damp soils, so it grows near creeks, streams, and ponds. That is unique about this relatively ordinary plant is its hundreds of uses for survival. And you guessed what kind of tree it is? Well, I’m talking about the American basswood tree, also known as the American linden (from the Latin word Tilia americana).

Natural range of basswood

Natural Range

In circumstances of intense survival, because you are in the great outdoors, all you’ll need is trees. They have an unprecedented amount of materials necessary for survival and providing elements for all four core survival priorities: shelter, water, fire, and food. Additionally, researching as many tree species as possible, as well as their uses, is a worthwhile endeavor that will prove time and time again to be rewarding.

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The basswood is one of my favorite survival trees because it is one of the three genera of plants that is also a replacement for … chocolate, among its abundant uses. The young fruits emit a chocolate odor and flavor when mashed. This is why, during various periods of time in European history, the basswood fruits were used as a source of cocoa.


But now let’s briefly discuss identification. The basswood has very specific features:

  • It is 50 to 80 feet high and 50 feet wide.basswood tree identification
  • The trunk is usually straight.
  • Mature basswoods develop smaller sucker basswood trees at their base (which is how I identify the tree during the cold season when their leaves are gone).basswood young; sucker trees
  • The bark is dark grey, it becomes full of furrows and ridges with age.
  • The leaves are large and heart-shaped and they have toothed margins, while the young leaf buds are dark red.
  • One of the most distinctive features is the so called “tongue.” This is a leaf shaped like a tongue that grows at the base of the regular heart-like leaves on mature basswoods. During the entire summer, the tongue leaf develops small fruits that are hard, look like nuts, are yellow, and are accompanied by aromatic flowers.basswood leaves and tongues and young buds

Basswood Survival Uses

Now that we have identified how to define the tree when it comes to SHTF and in general, it is time to address its value. For instance, one of the most significant features is that the basswood is absolutely edible. The leaves can be eaten as salad during the spring. They have a mildly sweet taste and they hunger for refreshment.

Shelterbasswood shelter

The basswood is not a very strong wood and therefore not well suitable for building a shelter, however it can definitely be a good substitute. You will get some excellent shelter poles from the young; smaller sucker basswood trees growing from the base as these sucker trees develop as straight, tall, flexible “branches.” So when you are searching for fallen branches, rely on the sucker basswood trees and you will have a shelter structure in no time because of the soft nature of the wood. (Basswood is thus a favorite of wood carvers.)

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basswood sap

When you’re searching for a source of water, you’ll just have to find a basswood and you’ll have two springs of water: 1) the tree itself and 2) a good source of water.

Much like a maple or a oak, the basswood can be tapped for sap. While its sap does not contain very high concentrations of sugar and for syrup it is not worth it to boil, it is very refreshing. Another nice thing is that it is very easy to tape those trees. And if you are desperately thirsty, find a basswood and you will in no time have a decent dose of fluids.

As I said earlier, Basswoods prefer moist soils and water-rich environments, so if you see one, then it is a simple sign that there is a nearby water source. Look for more trees around, and they’ll lead you to a fountainhead.


Because of its soft consistency the basswood tree is best for lighting a fire through friction, particularly the sucker trees and the young branches. Even though excessive heat and warmth are not preferred, the porous basswood grove very quickly generates a nice, hot ember;,perfect for starting a fire in the wilderness.

Food & Remedies

The basswood tree is one of those plant categories that can be consumed entirely. Se here are the edible parts:

  • Buds or flowers
  • Young leaves
  • Seeds
  • Sap
  • Cambium (bast or inner bark)


basswood leaves salad

The young leaves can be eaten as salads and believe me, it’s delicious. During spring, I consume at least one basswood leaves salad a week. But some might find it difficult to consume them, as these leaves are mucilaginous, particularly when they begin to mature in the late spring and throughout the summer, so I suggest you eat them when their size is close to that of a coin. In addition, basswood leaves are used to minimize fevers as they promote heavy sweating. Moreover, after being properly dried and finely crushed, the leaves can be made into flour. For example, I made about one pound of flour with compressed leaves out of a completely filled paper grocery bag.


Basswood flowers can also be added to your salad, as they are edible. Yet making tea is my preferred method of using those flowers. You just have to steep a handful of flowers in a cup of very hot water and then let it sit for about 10 minutes, and one of the most delicious teas you’ve ever tasted will be on you. Additionally, due to its amazing health benefits this tea is still commonly used in Europe. The flowers act as an antioxidant and are used to treat symptoms of cold and flu, as well as infections, hypertension, and headaches, especially migraines. Also, they serve as a diuretic, an antispasmodic, and as a sedative. Basswood tea is also known to reduce indigestion associated with anxiety, irregular heartbeat, and vomiting. As it is used to treat insomnia, arteriosclerosis, and nervous tension, it is also the ideal stress relieving tea. In Austrian medicine, the tea is used to treat respiratory tract disorders, infections, and high blood pressure.

N.B.: If you have heart problems, consult your GP because extended use of flower tea may cause or aggravate heart issues. Additionally, as with every herb, there’s risk of allergic reactions. So be cautious and always consult with your GP when considering using herbal remedies.


Basswood seeds, which typically grow a few weeks after flowering, are not only nutritious but can also be used as a replacement for coffee and chocolate. Yes, you are reading this right — chocolate! You will have to ground the immature seeds together with dried flowers before they turn into powder and then you will have to apply a few drops of a neutral oil (grapeseed oil, etc.) before the powder turns into a paste. The paste is the replacement for chocolate which has been used for centuries in Europe. Yet bear in mind that the ground paste will not last very long, hence it can not be manufactured on a marketable scale. Within a day, or two, you’ll have to eat it. However, Carolina’s early explorers claimed that the end product was a “chocolate, not any less than that made from Cacao.”

As seeds mature, they start losing the flavor of chocolate and developing a taste that is more like a coffee. And if you roast them for 20 minutes at 300°F, and grind them when they’re cool, you’ll have a coffee substitute.

Bast/Inner Bark

basswood inner bark cambium

You can discover the inner improvement if you remove the first layer of bark, which can either be eaten raw, boiled, or ground in a powder. I have tried all the versions and honestly I can tell I prefer all these styles. When eaten fresh, it has a light, sweet, greenish taste, somewhat similar to a cucumber. When you boil the bast, it will be soft, and it will be good for chewing and digestion. The powder extracted from the dried bark on the ground is ideal for baking when combined with flour; and it can also be used for soups, stews, and sauces. An old-timer once told me he learned of families in the Great Depression who were applying basswood sawdust to bread dough as a filler to make rations last longer.

Timber burned to charcoal is used topically to treat edema or infection, for example, cellulite or lower leg ulcers.

Once the bark is removed, make sure you don’t extract it from the trunk or you’re going to kill the tree. Instead, locate a branch or a tree with suckers. You can absolutely cut it off, and then peel the outer bark back to hit the sweet improvement.


The only time to tap a basswood tree is in early spring. Like any other hardwood trees, the basswood can be tapped, but you’ll be pleased to learn that tapping it is even simpler and quicker because of its soft wood. While the sap of basswood contains just 1% of sugar, it is extremely refreshing. Through cutting them into a thin branch with a sharpened point you can use the young sucker trees to tapping. You can hit any other tree with this spile, like maple, birch, and so forth.

The sap can be consumed instead of water since it has a very low sugar content, but its great survival use is that it sooths skin irritations, wounds, burns, sores, and boils.


basswood cordage

Bass comes from the word “bast” in Old English, meaning rope or plant fiber, so the basswood bark makes an excellent cordage. It can easily be said that this tree offers the most amazing tool. During spring is the best time to harvest the bast for cordage, when the tree is packed with sap. If you are clever enough to cut the tree on the score line, you can see that if the tree is young, you can extract the entire bark in one piece. Otherwise, if you peeled carefully from the bottom you can still select very large bits.

The best cordage is made from the fibers of the inner bark which, when processed are suitable for nets, baskets, clothing, traps, or any other survival “devices” needed.

Tools and Others

The basswood is the tree preferred by every woodcarver due to its soft wood. The wood is so flexible and soft that it can be chopped with just a small knife in no time. Thus, the basswood is used for manufacturing a great variety of tools, from drinking straws, trap systems, floats for fishing, and blowing tubes for making coal-burned containers to smoking pipes and cooking utensils, such as spoons, forks, spatulas, chopsticks, ladles, etc.

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