Monograph – Slippery Elm

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra, AKA U. fulva)

Taste: Sweet
UPS Status: At-Risk 34
Energetics: Cool, Moist, Relaxant

Family: Ulmaceae

Principle:
Element:
Planets:

Medicinal PartsInner bark
Herbal Friends/Pairs Marshmallow, Iceland Moss
AlternativesMarshmallow root, Siberian Elm
AffinitiesMucous Membranes, Digestive, Respiratory, and Urinary Systems
Notable ConstituentsStarches (to 21%), Mucilage (to 31%), Pentosans (to 18%), Tannins (to 6%)
Herbal ActionsDemulcent, Emollient, Antiemetic, Nutritive, Vulnerary, Bulk Laxative, Astringent, Anti-inflammatory
Preparation MethodsNOT as tincture, Cold infusion, Hot Long infusion where it is allowed to cool to room temp

Medicinal Uses

  • A standard demulcent which applications are almost identical to those of marshmallow, though it is less cooling and more nutritive
  • As an emollient, topical applications for dry, irritated, inflamed states of the skin.
  • Pain and inflammation in the digestive tract is eased (acid reflux, gastritis, ulcers, colitis, etc.)
  • Useful for both constipation and diarrhea.
  • Helpful for dry and hot states in the respiratory and urinary mucosa due to its moistening effects.
  • Given the amount of fiber in it, it is considered a bulking laxative.

Dosage

  • Capsules: 12 or more a day to achieve a therapeutic dose
  • Slurry: about 5 grams mixed with enough water to drink
  • Gruel: 5-10 grams of Slippery Elm in a saucepan, add a liquid, to make a paste and then, while heating the mixture over a low flame, gradually add more liquid until the desired consistency has been achieved. Add honey and other flavorings to taste. Can be mixed with oats or rice porridge.

Cautions

  • Slippery Elm is endangered. Restrict use unless no other herb will serve and make sure your supplier is using sustainable harvester.
  • Siberian elm, U.pumila, is an effective substitute, very similar to slippery elm, and considered invasive in some parts of the USA.
  • As with other demulcents, thick mucilaginous infusions will inhibit absorption of medications taken concurrently; keep medications separated by at least two hours from consumption of elm.
  • In Practice -Slippery elm powder, a vulnerary in its own right, lends itself nicely as base material for applying herbs in a poultice. Mix tinctures of vulneraries or antimicrobial herbs into slippery elm powder, and it will gel up into a paste.
  • Slippery elm powder is also helpful in cough lozenges.
  • Elm is generally easier to work with in powder form.
  • A gruel of slippery elm is a helpful preparation for those who are very ill and have difficulty eating or keeping food down.

Botanical Information

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Slippery elm is a medium-sized tree with a native range of central and southern United States.  A long trunk is divided into large branches that form a flat-topped canopy.  The branches are rough; the leaves long, unequally toothed, with rough hairs on top and smooth hairs on bottom.  The flowers are small dense clusters that become winged seeds that disperse on the wind.

The bark is normally a reddish-brown to a grayish color, with long vertical ridges and some weaving, but some are dark brown with intermittent or obscured ridging and weaving.  Making the bark not much help in field identification.

Twigs are stout, gray, densely hairy, rough; smooth with age; inner surface slippery when chewed; fuzzy pubescence is most pronounced at the terminal end of the twig.  American Elm has smooth twigs (requires magnification to see clearly)

In fall and winter, the buds are a distinct reddish color; as they age they turn dark purplish- to reddish-brown, and can be hairy.

Leaves are alternate, simple, 4–8 inches long, broadest near the middle; margin with smaller teeth along the lower side of the larger teeth; tip with a long, narrow point; base uneven. Upper surface dark green, very rough, with stiff hairs; lower surface paler, with soft hairs.

The leaf tip of Slippery Elm has an extended tip that arises suddenly and abruptly from the leaf margins and leaf blades often rise upward from the central leaf vein, giving the leaf a partially folded appearance, unlike its look-a-like, American Elm whose leaves appear flat and tips arise smoothly and evenly from leaf margins.

Flowers emerge in small dense clusters on short stalks during late winter or early spring.  The flower is about 1/4 inch long, green, hairy, with absent petals.  They form circular, winged seeds that disperse in the wind.

Fruits April–June, in clusters; fruit ¼–¾ inch long, seed surrounded by a papery wing; wing reddish-brown, broadest in the middle, notched at the top, smooth; seed solitary, flattened.

Slippery Elm seeds have no notch whereas American Elm seeds have a distinct notch at the top.

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Native Range: Central and southern United States
Zone: 3 to 9
Height: 40 to 60 feet
Spread: 30 to 50 feet
Bloom Time: February to April
Bloom Description: Reddish-green
Sun: Full
Water: Medium (moist soil)

Common Look-A-Likes: American Elm
Harvest Time: Spring
Sustainability: At Risk, use alternative when possible
Environmental Connection: Fruits are eaten by many birds including Carolina Chickadees, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and Purple Finches. The seeds are food for many mammals including squirrels. The leaves are food for a variety of insects including butterflies.

Pictures

Hand-drawn Slippery Elm showing the leaf, buds, flowers, and bark, drawn by Debora J. Brown.
Artwork by Debora J. Brown

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Pet Information

Slippery elm has the stamp of approval from holistic veterinarians for use in pets, including dogs and cats.

Gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, constipation, colitis, gastroenteritis, and irritable bowel disease.

Respiratory issues like a sore throat and cough from conditions like a collapsed trachea, bronchitis, or acid reflux.

Skin irritation from minor wounds, burns, ulcers, and hot spots.

Powder Dosage: Give ¼ tsp of powder for every 10 lbs of body weight. Mix the powder into food or some yogurt.

Gel: Stir the powder dose (above) into some warm water and let it sit to thicken. You can give this to your dog as-is. If he doesn’t want to eat it, you can syringe it into his mouth.

Syrup: Mix 1 rounded teaspoon of slippery elm powder in 1 cup cold water. Bring to boil while you stir. Turn down the heat, stir and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, add 1 tbsp of honey and let it cool.

Syrup Dosage:
Under 25 lbs … 1 to 2 tbsp four times daily
25-50 lbs … 2 to 4 tbsp four times daily
50 lbs and over … ¼ to ½ cup four times daily

Topical: mix slippery elm powder with hot water to form a paste. Let it cool then spread it on a soft cotton cloth and place it over the affected area or put the powder in cheesecloth or cotton, tie off the fabric to make a sac and then soak in warm water. Gently press it on the wound until it cools.


Personal Experiences

Remembering Tips: Don’t think I will ever forget this one but slimy like a slippery slug on an elm

8/6/2021 – my first encounter wasn’t a great one; this stuff is like snot and very thick. Not sure how I’m going to even try this stuff.
8/8/2021 – after a day or so I figured it out, mix it down with more water and drink quick, and had no issues. It also has been helping me poop.
8/13/2021 – I didn’t take any for a few days and my pooping issues are back; I’m going to have to make more and drink it.


Herbcrafter’s Tarot: 5 of Earth

Soothe the pain of those in need.
Even the wounded can heal.
You have the skills it takes to survive any crisis.

Herbcrafter’s Tarot pg.64

Economic and physical hardships may cause stress. Setbacks can take you by surprise and reduce vitality. Alienation from your support system compounds the issue. While slippery elm is a valued botanical; for the first few years of life, the bark provides medicine for inflammation and materials for baskets. Its health is threatened by Dutch Elm disease. All trees eventually become susceptible. Slippery Elm teaches that even in hard times we have access to our resources if we do not lose faith. You have the skills to protect what remains and make it through this crisis. Create a warm and comforting place to hold up while your situation improves.

Plant Studies

Other Referances

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Sources:

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