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The Survival Tree You May Not Know About

by Paul-Martin Foss

If I told you there’s a tree that can provide you with wood for shelter, cordage, and edible leaves and fruits, what would you guess it is? You may not have heard of it, even though it’s a pretty common tree and is often grown in cities as an ornamental shade tree. It’s the basswood tree, also known as American linden, or sometimes lime, although it has no relation to citrus trees. It grows across much of the Eastern United States and southern portions of Canada. If you have these trees in your vicinity, they can provide you with most of the major supplies you need to survive.


The wood from basswood is porous and not very strong, so it’s not a perfect shelter. Still, if you come across basswood trees, especially mature taller trees, you can often find plenty of fallen branches or suckers that can form the basis for a primitive shelter. Since basswood can propagate through suckers, you’ll often see numerous suckers around the base of a mature tree that will be fairly straight and that can be cut to use for building a shelter.


The name basswood comes from bast, the term used for the strong, woody fibers that come from the phloem of plants and are used to make cordage or ropes. The inner bark fibers of basswood are particularly useful for cordage.


Dry basswood will burn just like any other wood, although it’s not the best for firewood. It has the lowest BTUs of any Eastern hardwood, about half the value of better firewoods like oak. Still, any wood is better than no wood. And because basswood is relatively soft even though it’s classified as a hardwood, it can be used to start fires with a friction drill.


Basswood prefers moist soils, so if you’re around basswood you know that there’s probably a good water source somewhere nearby. If you can’t find the water source, you can tap the tree to collect its sap, which isn’t as syrupy as maple sap and can be drunk to quench thirst.

Food & Drink

The young leaves of the basswood can be eaten as a salad. However, because they are sticky, it’s best to eat them early in spring. The blossoms of the linden tree are dried and used to make a flavorful and aromatic tea in Europe that is supposed to have many health benefits. The seeds can even be used as chocolate or coffee substitutes, with young seeds being used to make a cocoa equivalent and the more mature seeds being roasted to make a coffee substitute.

Tools and Decoration

Basswood is a soft wood and easily carved. In Europe, linden wood was one of the preferred woods for the elaborate altarpieces carved by Veit Stoss and Tilman Riemenschneider. Basswood can be used for carving tableware, turning bowls and food containers, or even making furniture.

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