Slippery Elm

Slippery elm is truly one of the most versatile plants in the herbal kingdom. An important “tree of plenty”, it is renowned for its beauty, medicine, and food; it seems to help everything it touches. Its herbal actions are demulcent, expectorant, emollient, diuretic, and nutritive in nature. Slippery elm has a long history of use as an herbal medicine; it is still listed as an official drug in the United States Pharmacopoeia and is also sanctioned as an over-the –counter drug. It is one of nature’s best demulcents, its effectiveness proven through eons of use. It contains mucilage cells, starch, tannin and calcium oxalate. These constituents penetrate and cover exposed irritated surfaces, aiding in the healing process. Having an emollient action, it tends to soften and relax inflamed tissues and is specific for inflamed conditions of mucous membranes of the bowels, stomach, throat, and kidney.

Propagation and Cultivation
Given the current status of the elm population in general, along with the incredible usefulness of slippery elm, it is imperative that we begin planting this tree as a part of our sustainable farm and garden practices, much as we plant comfrey and Jerusalem artichokes. Though slippery elm is still susceptible to Dutch elm disease, it remains healthy and usable for the first several years of its life. Thick young stands of trees could be thinned and used as medicine, while older, more disease-susceptible trees could be used for building and firewood. These plantings should not only be considered for aesthetics, and for food and medicine, but also as a source of seed stock to ensure the future survival of this most giving tree.

Slippery elm seeds may be sown as is in their normal cycle in the spring of the year, in an 18-inch raised peat moss soil and sand bed. The beds may need wire top for protection of the young seeds and seedlings. You can expect a 10 to 25 percent germination rate. Transplant the trees into tree tubes within the first month of germination (the soil should be well drained potting soil). They may be field planted after a year or two, depending in the size of your chosen tree tube. Always keep the tree watered during drought, and routinely check for insect predation and signs of fertilization needs.

UpS recommendations

  • Limit wild harvest to trees struck by natural disaster such as storms, otherwise use cultivated resources only
  • Possible substitutions include marsh mellow, comfrey, and mullein.

-Paul Strauss, Planting the Future, pg. 203-209

Slippery Elm Podcast -The Plant Detective by Flora Delaterre



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