- Family Ulmaceae
- Ulmus rubra
- Ulmus fulva
- Red Elm, Sweet Elm, American Elm, Indian Elm, Moose Elm, Oohooskah, Ulmenrinde, Ecorce d’Orme
- None listed.
Native to North America, slippery elm is one of thirty-four species of elm tree growing in the US, particularly in the Applalachians and throughout the central and northern states. The herb is obtained from a large, deciduous tree, growing to about sixty feet and thriving on high ground and dry soil. It has a brown trunk and rough, gray-white bark on the branches. The reddish-brown fruits grow in clusters, with each consisting of a single seed visible in the center of the fruit. The medicinal part is the inner rind separated from the outer bark. It is collected in the spring.
The herb had a variety of uses by the Native Americans, including poultices for wounds, boils, ulcers, and inflamed eyes, and used internally for fevers, colds, and bowel complaints. Several tribes, including the Pillager Ojibwa, Mohegan, and Chippewa, have used slippery elm to treat sore throats, a practice still in use today. The Cree used the bark for toothaches, and the Catawaba used a salve for rheumatism. Many tribes used it as a soothing food for children and the sick.
Its name is derived from its strongly mucilaginous or “slippery” taste and texture.
The White elm (U. americana) is a related species and used in a similar manner by the Mohicans.
In Europe, the dried bark of the elm (Ulmus spp) was used as a demulcent, and first mentioned by Diorscorides in the 1st century CE.
The elm was a favoured shade tree in North America until the Dutch elm disease decimated the species in the 1960s. Some hardy trees survived and it slowly has been making a comeback in many parts of the country. Although the tree is not as prevalent as it once was, it has recovered enough to provide ample bark to make the powder. Since only small strips are harvested, the tree is not damaged.
Because it was unknown in Europe, early settlers were skeptical that it could be used as an effective medicine. They soon learned; and, as they made their way west, they began harvesting strips of bark to treat such conditions as urinary and bowel ailments, sore throat, scurvy, diarrhea, dysentary, cholera, skin ulcers, chilblains, toothaches, and burns.
Slippery elm was listed in the US Pharmacopoeia until 1960, when the Dutch elm disease appeared.
- Inner rind of the bark
- Infusions are used for diarrhea, constipation, or irritable bowel syndrome.
- Capsules are conveniently taken for internal problems.
- Powder is used for digestive problems.
- Tablets are taken for diarrhea.
- Poultice or paste are used for for wounds, boils, and burns.
- Lozenges are the common over-the-counter remedy for sore throats.
Although modern research is lacking, the action of the herb has been well understood for centuries. When the herb comes in direct contact with such inflamed surfaces as those of the skin or the intestinal mucous membranes, it soothes and coats the irritated tissue, protecting it from further injury while drawing out any offending toxins and irritants.
Taken regularly, the herb is a nutritious food and quite suitable for the convalescent and debilitated, especially if the digestion is weak or overly sensitive. It also is good for babies in quietening colicky symptoms.
The herb is excellent during irritable bowel or Crohn’s-like attacks. It will relieve the pain almost immediately and severe pain within a day if taken three times a day during an acute attack. The powder can also be made into a type of gruel or thick drink to relieve heartburn and indigestion, soothe ulcers, and other inflammatory conditions.
It will bring instant relief from acidity, diarrhea, and such inflammation of the gut as ulcers. It also relieves constipation, hemorrhoids, and diverticulitis.
Slippery elm has been used to treat all manner of chest conditions, and has a soothing effect on everything from coughs and bronchitis to pleurisy and tuberculosis.
Applied externally, the herb softens and protects the skin, as well as having a “drawing” effect for boils, splinters, and toxins. Powdered bark is used to make a soothing poultice that not only eases pain and itchiness, but also promotes the healing of cuts, bruises, insect stings and bites, minor burns, and skin inflammations.
When the bark itself is moistened, it forms a flexible, spongy tissue that can be molded and applied to the anal area to ease the discomfort of hemorrhoids.