Slippery Elm, also known as Red Elm, Grey Elm, or Moose Elm, is a native tree found in the Eastern United States and Southern Quebec, reaching heights of up to 65 feet. As a member of the Ulmacea family, it has rough bark and reddish brown heartwood. It’s rough leaves have double serrate margins and asymmetrical, oblique bases. It’s flowers are petal-less and it fruits in oval winged samaras. Slippery Elm grows best in moist soils, but can also tolerate drier intermediate soils. It does well in the Eastern United states, but will require too much water to thrive in the western states without excessive water use. The inner bark is the part of the tree that is used medicinally. In commercial production of slippery elm, this usually means the death of the tree.
Slippery Elm is a Demulcent, emollient, astringent, and a tonic used for the throat and the lungs. However, due to Dutch Elm Disease and the Elm Leaf Beetle, the bark of Slippery Elm is not to be used in great quantities or regularly. Slippery Elm bark was used during the 18th and 19th centuries to prevent meat from spoiling, and ground into a nutritious gruel similar to oatmeal to aid stomach, lung, and throat distress. It’s actions as a demulcent can be very soothing on the throat if you have a cough that’s left your throat raw. It can also help treat gastritis, gastric ulcers, enteritis, colitis, and other disorders of the intestinal system. It can soothe diarrhea with its soothing, astringent qualities, drying and calming at the same time. For the digestive system, it combines well with marshmallow root. It can be used externally in salves, decoctions, or poultices for inflamed and chapped skin, boils, and accesses. For a decoction, mix one part powdered bark with 8 parts water, and for poultices, mix the dry bark with enough water to make a paste.
The wood of the Slippery Elm was often used in wagon wheels, since it’s a dense, shock resistant wood, and the inner bark for fibers, ropes, and twines. It’s often used for musical instruments, and makes a great fire-starter wood for the bow-drill method, as it grinds into a very fine flammable powder under friction.
As a decoction, 1 part powdered bark to 8 parts water, mixed a little then brought to a boil and simmered for 10-15 minutes. Take half a cup, three times daily. As a poultice, mix the powdered bark with enough water to make a paste. Can also be taken as lozenges.
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