Ulmus fulva-Slippery Elm
Other names: American Elm, Indian Elm, Moose Elm, Red Elm, Rock Elm, Sweet Elm, Ulme, Winged Elm, Ulmus rubra. Michx, Ulmus crispa. Willd, Ulmus pendula. Willd.
Habitat: Central and Southern N. America – Maine to Florida, west to Texas and North Dakota. Rich deep soils, often calcareous, on the banks of streams and low rocky hillsides.
Slippery elm bark is a widely used medicinal herb and is considered to be one of the most valuable of remedies in herbal practice. In particular, it is a gentle and effective remedy for irritated states of the mucous membranes of the chest, urinary tubules, stomach and intestines. The plant is also part of a North American formula called essiac which is a popular treatment for cancer. Its effectiveness has never been reliably proven or disproven since controlled studies have not been carried out. The other herbs included in the formula are Arctium lappa, Rumex acetosella and Rheum palmatum. The inner bark is demulcent, diuretic, emollient, expectorant, nutritive. It has a soothing and healing effect on all parts of the body that it comes into contact with and is used in the treatment of sore throats, indigestion, digestive irritation, stomach ulcers etc. It used to be frequently used as a food that was a nutritive tonic for the old, young and convalescents. It was also applied externally to fresh wounds, burns and scalds. The bark has been used as an antioxidant to prevent fats going rancid. The whole bark, including the outer bark, has been used as a mechanical irritant to abort foetuses. Its use became so widespread that it is now banned in several countries.
Description of Slippery Elm:
Ulmus fulva, Slippery Elm is a deciduous Tree growing to 20 m (65ft) by 15 m (49ft) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone 3 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Mar to May, and the seeds ripen from May to June. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Wind.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.
Cultivation of Slippery Elm:
Prefers a fertile soil in full sun, but can be grown in any soil of at least moderate quality so long as it is well drained. Plants are hardy to about -10°c. A moderately fast-growing tree, living about 200 years in the wild, but although perfectly hardy, this species does not usually thrive in Britain. Trees are often harvested in the wild for their edible inner bark, the ‘slippery elm’ that can be obtained from chemists and health food shops. Trees have been over-exploited in the wild, plus they have also suffered from Dutch elm disease. As a result they are becoming much less common. The slippery elm is very susceptible to ‘Dutch elm disease’, a disease that has destroyed the greater part of all the elm trees growing in Britain. The disease is spread by means of beetles. There is no effective cure (1992) for the problem, but most E. Asian, though not Himalayan, species are resistant (though not immune) to the disease so the potential exists to use these resistant species to develop new resistant hybrids with the native species. The various species of this genus hybridize freely with each other and pollen is easily saved, so even those species with different flowering times can be hybridized.
Propagation of Slippery Elm:
Seed – if sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe, it usually germinates within a few days. Stored seed does not germinate so well and should be sown in early spring, it requires 2 – 3 months stratification according to another report. The seed can also be harvested ‘green’ (when it has fully developed but before it dries on the tree) and sown immediately in a cold frame. It should germinate very quickly and will produce a larger plant by the end of the growing season. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Plants should not be allowed to grow for more than two years in a nursery bed since they form a tap root and will then move badly. Layering of suckers or coppiced shoots.
The inner bark contains large quantities of a sticky slime that can be dried to a powder or made into a liquid. The inner bark is harvested in the spring from the main trunk and from larger branches, it is then dried and powdered for use as required. Ten year old bark is said to be best. Fine grades of the powder are best for internal use, coarse grades are better suited to poultices.
Culinary uses of Slippery Elm:
Edible Parts: Fruit; Inner bark; Leaves.
Edible Uses: Tea.
Leaves – raw or cooked. Inner bark – raw or cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and then used as a thickener in soups or added to cereal flours when making bread etc. It can also be chewed as a thirst quencher. The inner bark has been cooked with fats in order to prevent them becoming rancid. Immature fruit – raw or cooked. The fruit is about 20mm in diameter. A tea-like beverage can be brewed from the inner bark.
Actions: Demulcent, emollient, nutrient, astringent, anti-inflammatory.
Part Used: Inner bark.
Indications: Slippery Elm Bark is a soothing nutritive demulcent which is perfectly suited for sensitive or inflamed mucous membrane linings in the digestive system. It may be used in gastritis, gastric or duodenal ulcer, enteritis, colitis and the like. It is often used as a food during convalescence as it is gentle and easily assimilated. In diarrhoea it will soothe and astringe at the same time. Externally it makes an excellent poultice for use in cases of boils, abscesses or ulcers.
Priest & Priest tell us that it is ” the best demulcent for internal and external use. It lubricates and soothes alimentary mucosa, relieves intestinal irritation, and quietens the nervous system” They give the following specific indications: acute gastritis and duodenal ulcer, gastritis, diarrhea, dysentary, enteritis. Inflammation of the mouth and throat. Vaginitis. Burns, scalds and abrasions. Haemorrhoids and anal fissure. Varicose ulcer. Abscesses, boils, carbuncles, inflamed wounds and ulcers.
Preparations & Dosage of Slippery Elm:
Decoction: use 1 part of the powdered bark to 8 parts of water. Mix the powder in a little water initially to ensure it will mix. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes. Drink half a cup three times a day.
Slippery Elm Powder is used to make poultices : mix the coarse powdered bark with enough boiling water to make a paste. It is also used mixed into a gruel for convalescing patients.
Other uses of Slippery Elm:
Fibre, Kindling, Roofing, Tinder, Wood.
A fibre obtained from the inner bark is used to make a twine. The boiled bark has been used for making matting, nets etc. The inner bark has been used in making baskets. The bark has been used as a roofing material. The weathered bark has been used as kindling for starting a fire. Wood – very close-grained, tough, heavy, hard, strong, durable, easy to split. It weighs 43lb per cubic foot and is used for fence posts, window sills, agricultural implements etc.
Esoteric uses of Slippery Elm:
Magickal uses include protection and halting gossip. Tie a knotted yellow thread around slippery elm and throw it into a fire to cease all gossip about you.
Constituents: Mucilage, composed of galactose, 3-methyl galactose, rhamnose and galacturonic acid residues.