Synonyms and Common names: red elm, moose elm, American elm, Indian elm, rock elm, sweet elm, winged elm.
Description and Habitat:
Slippery Elm comes from a small tree, growing abundantly in various parts of North America, although Dutch Elm disease has weakened the tree’s hold and only a small amount of this useful herb is left in its original country.
The branches are very rough, the leaves are ling and unequally toothed, with hairs on all sides. Leaf buds are covered with dense yellow wool. The pink/red flowers unusually sit upon the bark itself, growing in clusters on longish stalks.
The bark is not very thick, only around an inch or inch and a half, and as it is the inner bark that is of use, this means that the whole of the branch is used as it is difficult to get to the inner bark without destroying the outer.
Red Elm does not grow in Britain which means it has to be bought but is often available in many health shops and online (take care you only buy from a reputable seller, see Contraindications below). The inner bark is dried and powdered before sale, and it needs to be as fresh as possible to obtain the best results.
Parts used: Inner bark.
Collection and preparation: As the Slippery Elm tree is not indigenous to Britain, it is best bought ready powdered.
Constituents: Mucilage, composed of galactose, 3-methyl galactose, rhamnose and galacturonic acid residues.
Actions: Demulcent, emollient, nutrient, astringent, anti-inflammatory.
Indications and Therapeutics:
Slippery Elm is indicated in; inflammation or ulceration of stomach or duodenum, convalescence, colitis, diarrhoea; locally as a poultice for boils, abscesses and ulcers.
It is an excellent remedy for Inflammation and ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract such as oesophagitis, gastritis, colitis, gastric or duodenal ulcers and diarrhoea. It's soothing demulcent and nutritive actions make it especially suitable for sensitive or inflamed mucous membrane linings in the digestive system. It has often been used as a food during convalescence as it is gentle and easily assimilated. In diarrhoea, it soothes and astringes at the same time. Externally, it makes an excellent poultice for use in cases of boils, abscesses, ulcers or burns.
Slippery Elm is a herb with high fibre content, any high fibre products are contraindicated in the case of impacted bowel or bowel blockage of any origin. Slippery Elm is becoming harder to get due to over-collection in the past, as a result, the outer bark is sometimes substituted for the inner bark, however, the outer bark does not have the same constituents so is inferior, it is also an abortifacient, so take care that you only buy from a reputable supplier and what you buy is definitely the inner bark.
Preparation and dosage:
Decoction: 1 part of the finely powdered bark to 8 parts of water, mix the powder in a little water to mix to a paste, then add the rest of the water and bring it to the boil, simmer gently for around 10 to 15 minutes. Drink half a cup three times a day.
Poultice: Mix coarse powdered bark with enough boiling water to make a paste. Use as required.
Folklore and additional comments:
The bark has also been used historically as an abortifacient, first moistened with water and then inserted into the cervix. This practice became thoroughly regulated by "elm stick laws" in several US states, which forbade selling pieces of slippery elm bark longer than a certain length. Selling whole Slippery Elm bark is banned in several countries including Britain because of this.
The fibrous inner bark is a strong and durable fibre, which can be spun into thread, twine or rope. It can be used for bowstrings, ropes, jewellery, clothing, snowshoe bindings, woven mats, and even some musical instruments.
The wood is used in America for the hubs of wagon wheels, as it is very shock-resistant owing to the wood's interlocking grain.
Once cured, the wood is also excellent for making fires with the bow drill method, as it grinds into a very fine, flammable powder under friction.
Slippery elm has no folklore from Britain, it not being a tree that grows here, but in the USA folklore abounds.
Used in ‘conjure work’ and ‘hoodoo’ it is said to make the bearer of a piece of the tree impervious to slander, libel, malicious gossip and lies. People would place a small pinch of the powder into the corners of the room, it is claimed that this protects the home and rids the premises of evil. Some would carry slippery elm with them in a pocket or bag for immunity from harmful stories told by hidden enemies posing as friends. I must point out that this was done a long time ago, but hoodoo and conjure is still used in some places in the USA, so who knows!