Common Name: Elm, Slippery Elm, Siberian Elm
Botanical Name: Ulmus spp.
Energetics: Neutral, moist
Taste: Bland, sweet
Actions: Demulcent, sl. astringent, expectorant, drawing agent
The Elm I use is often referred to as Siberian Elm, or Ulmus pumila, a native of eastern Asia that has gone rather invasive in the US. It’s considered one of the quickest growing hedge plants available, and certainly it can shoot up out of nowhere even in the semi-arid lands of the SW mountains. Incredibly drought resistant, it can out compete most native plants for water and ground space, and quickly colonizes roadsides, disturbed areas and yards. According to my research, it grows from Utah to Kansas, and north to Ontario, giving it a large range in the Southwest, Midwest and Great Plains. And the USDA map says it grows in nearly every state in the US, with only two or three exceptions, as well as through much of Canada. Because of these conflicting sources, I’m not actually clear on where exactly its range extends to, but I do know that it is common throughout the mountainous SW and Rocky Mountains. It can grow from 50-70 feet, which is funny since pumila seems to mean dwarf.
While I don’t recommend cultivating this Elm where it could become invasive and detrimental to local ecology, I do think that it would a wonderful plant for nearly everyone to regularly use. U. pumila generally possesses all the wonderful qualities ascribed to Slippery Elm, being incredibly mucilaginous, soothing, healing and preservative in nature. I use it in salves, infusions, lozenges, food (as a thickener and general nutritive agent) and as a poultice.
Much of Elm’s healing properties have to do with the copious amounts of mucilage it contains, making it very suitable in the treatment of any affliction characterized by inflammation and dryness. This can include bronchitis, ulcers, all manner of hot-natured belly problems, sore throat, UTIs, and constitutional dryness resulting in systemic inflammation. The gruel made with powdered bark is very nutritious and ideal for a weakened digestive system. Topically, the powdered bark of an infusion made with the bark is soothing, very healing and helps to draw boils and splinters out. The infused oil helps to preserve other oils and makes a great salve for irritated, abraded skin conditions.
It’s exceptionally useful as a demulcent partly because of its neutral temperature which won’t aggravate a cold constitution. There are a whole lot of people out there with cold, dry constitutions that need a big dose of a demulcent herb but can’t use Mallow because of how cooling it is. Elm powder can be added to oatmeal or something similar and eaten straight or it can be added to your daily nourishing infusion and sipped slowly through the day.
My favorite nourishing infusion right now is 4 parts Nettle, 2 parts Raspberry leaf, 1/2 part Elm bark. If you let it sit for several hours, and become cool to cold before straining you end up with a thick, slippery infusion just right for dry, woodstove heated winter days. I tend to prefer mine lukewarm, but it will seem less slimy if you drink it warm. You can of course water this down as much as you like to avoid the super slippery taste, as long as you actually ingest the same amount of infusion. I’m fond of diluting a quart of infusion into a gallon of water and making it my daily beverage.
Preparation: Doesn’t tincture too well with all the mucilage, as you can imagine, it wants to precipitate right out. Infuses very well into oil though. Mostly, I use the dried bark in either powder form or chunks of bark or bits of twigs. It’s very stable and lasts at least several years. It can be made into cold or hot infusions (both nice and slimy) or the powder can be added to food or taken straight with a bit of water or milk. The powder also makes great, slippery honey pills for sore throats and so on.
Cautions & Contradictions: Not for those who already suffer from excess moisture, as per thick, copious white mucus and chronic congestion, among other kapha like symptoms.