When I lived and practiced in London, one of my favourite summer traditions was picking Linden Flowers. Around midsummer, I would find myself standing beneath arching boughs collecting the sweet-smelling blossoms between the tree's heart-shaped bright green leaves. Running a busy practice in a big city, afforded few opportunities for home medicine making, so I savoured this tradition, looking forward to it from the moment the trees started to bud in early spring.
Here in California, I love how I can I can grow, gather and make much of my medicine. It's helped me form a closer relationship with many of my favourite herbs and nothing beats the vitality of a tincture whose contents travel from plant to jar in just a few minutes. But I do miss picking Linden, which won’t grow in this harsh dry climate. A few weeks ago I was back in England with my family. It was around midsummer and the strange flowers dangled from numerous Linden trees. When I spotted one, I took to lying underneath to drink in that sweet, musky scent which instantly transported me to summers past. I didn’t have time to pick and tincture, and even if I had and there had been room in our bags, US customs take a dim view of importing anything herbal without a licence.
On our return to Santa Cruz I started noticing how many Albizzia trees there are in our neighbourhood. And that they were in flower. I started using Albizzia a little before I left London, but have become closer to it here thanks to my friend and colleague Darren Huckle who practices Chinese as well as Western Herbal medicine. Commercially, it’s usually the bark which is on offer - probably because the incredibly beautiful and delicate fluffy blossoms are time consuming to harvest. The bark is great, but the flowers from what is known as ‘Happiness Tree’ in China are something special - wonderfully uplifting: improving mood and providing support during times of mental and emotional darkness.
Driving around town, all the trees I could see were on private property. What to do? After about the fifth occasion when I screeched the car to a halt and stared longingly out of the window, mentally calculating which branches I could reach, my son suggested that I just knock on a door and ask. Now, I’m English, and we don’t really do that kind of thing. But... a few days later, when I could see that the flowers were starting to fade, I realized that it was now or never (or at least not until next year). So, tentatively, I stepped up to the front door of a house with a particularly tempting low growing Albizzia in its front yard and rang the bell. The semi-naked gentleman who answered it looked surprised, but after I had gabbled my explanation and apologies, he seemed to decide I was a fairly unthreatening lunatic and invited me to take my pick. I came home with a bulging paper bag and a very happy smile. Emboldened, I decided to make use of our excellent neighbourhood email group and see who else could help. Two lovely and generous people came right back, and one even had her young daughters scampering up the tree and cascading me with blossoms.
Seeing the flowers up close I have been stunned by their beauty and perfection, and delighted by their delicate, sweet, slightly musky fragrance which, amazingly, is reminiscent of Linden flowers. Just a few days later, I can see that the flowers are coming to an end, the once bright pink and green feathers are brown dust on the ground. Mine, meanwhile, are nestled into a jar of vodka which has turned light pink as they have faded to white. I’m so glad I plucked up my courage and, most of all, happy that I now have a California version of my much-cherished London tradition.