Herb: Slippery Elm

Latin name: Ulmus rubra

Synonyms: Ulmus fulva

Family: Ulmaceae (Elm Family)

Medicinal use of Slippery Elm:

Slippery elm bark is a widely used herbal remedy and is considered to be one of the most valuable of remedies in herbal practice. In particular, it is a gentle and effective remedy for irritated states of the mucous membranes of the chest, urinary tubules, stomach and intestines. The inner bark contains large quantities of a sticky slime that can be dried to a powder or made into a liquid. The inner bark is harvested in the spring from the main trunk and from larger branches, it is then dried and powdered for use as required. Ten year old bark is said to be best. Fine grades of the powder are best for internal use, coarse grades are better suited to poultices. The plant is also part of a North American formula called essiac which is a popular treatment for cancer. Its effectiveness has never been reliably proven or disproven since controlled studies have not been carried out. The other herbs included in the formula are Arctium lappa, Rumex acetosella and Rheum palmatum. The inner bark is demulcent, diuretic, emollient, expectorant, nutritive. It has a soothing and healing effect on all parts of the body that it comes into contact with and is used in the treatment of sore throats, indigestion, digestive irritation, stomach ulcers etc. It used to be frequently used as a food that was a nutritive tonic for the old, young and convalescents. It was also applied externally to fresh wounds, burns and scalds. The bark has been used as an antioxidant to prevent fats going rancid. The whole bark, including the outer bark, has been used as a mechanical irritant to abort foetuses. Its use became so widespread that it is now banned in several countries.

Description of the plant:


20 m
(66 feet)

to May

Habitat of the herb:

Rich deep soils, often calcareous, on the banks of streams and low rocky hillsides.

Edible parts of Slippery Elm:

Leaves - raw or cooked. Inner bark - raw or cooked. It can be dried, ground into a powder and then used as a thickener in soups or added to cereal flours when making bread etc. It can also be chewed as a thirst quencher. The inner bark has been cooked with fats in order to prevent them becoming rancid. Immature fruit - raw or cooked. The fruit is about 20mm in diameter. A tea-like beverage can be brewed from the inner bark.

Other uses of the herb:

A fibre obtained from the inner bark is used to make a twine. The boiled bark has been used for making matting, nets etc. The inner bark has been used in making baskets. The bark has been used as a roofing material. The weathered bark has been used as kindling for starting a fire. Wood - very close-grained, tough, heavy, hard, strong, durable, easy to split. It weighs 43lb per cubic foot and is used for fence posts, window sills, agricultural implements etc.

Propagation of Slippery Elm:

Seed - if sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe, it usually germinates within a few days. Stored seed does not germinate so well and should be sown in early spring, it requires 2 - 3 months stratification according to another report. The seed can also be harvested "green" (when it has fully developed but before it dries on the tree) and sown immediately in a cold frame. It should germinate very quickly and will produce a larger plant by the end of the growing season. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Plants should not be allowed to grow for more than two years in a nursery bed since they form a tap root and will then move badly. Layering of suckers or coppiced shoots.

Cultivation of the herb:

Rich deep soils, often calcareous, on the banks of streams and low rocky hillsides.

Known hazards of Ulmus rubra:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.