Looking for a good leaf crop to fill the early early spring niche?
How about a pretty one?
A linden from underneath. Genus Tilia, also known as Basswood.
Very young linden leaves taste like the best sweet lettuce – not bitter, and not watery like some of the lettuces can be. Best of all, they’re ready way before (at least my) garden lettuces. You can harvest a few when the trees begin to leaf out, or pick from the growing tips later in the season – the tasty new leaves are a bright lime green quite distinct from the rest of the foliage. I’ve read of permaculturists coppicing linden trees to keep a good supply of young growth within reach – so you might be able to fit them into a smaller space than you’d expect for a tree.
Awesomely, the flowers that develop later in the season make a fragrant relaxing tea, often used as a cardiovascular tonic. They may be dried for use later in the season – but make sure you pick them in time.
To identify a linden – Flowers extend from long, narrow lighter-green bracts, as shown below. This family is the only one with this sort of a flower structure, and all family members are edible. The leaves form an asymmetric dent like the top of heart shape at their point of attachment to the stem – also unique to the genetic group.
Below is a baby – you can see how the flowers just cover the foliage, in June/July. The tree will keep this nice pyramidal shape through its life. My North Dakota town seems to have adopted it as the new Boulevard-Tree-Of-Choice, and NDSU plant breeders have done a bit of work on it recently, so you should be able to grow this comfortably in USDA Zone 3, perhaps even 2.
I love the unique shape of the bracts, and the leaf attachment point is quite visually interesting – this will be the next in my series of botanical booties.