SLIPPERY ELM, Ulmis rubra

When I lecture on slippery elm, I like to tell the story of a pioneer wagon train going across the Sierra Nevada Mountains late in the fall. One wagon broke a wheel. But they told the other wagons to keep going down the hill; that they would catch up the next day. During the night, an early winter storm came raging over the mountain, trapping the lone wagon in a blizzard that would hold them there all winter. It looked like certain doom for all six persons in that wagon.

The next spring, some of the other members of the wagon train got to gather and went back up the mountain to gather their remains so they could give them a Christian burial. They were all very surprised to find everyone well, healthy and in good spirits. It seems that one of their members knew something of herbs. They built a shelter and kept a fire going continuously. Besides their oxen, they ate mainly elm bark gruel, moss and watercress from the river. This is a true story with a happy ending, but too often, we hear of people starving with food all around them.

Slippery elm is one of the herbal greats. It is not only a good food, but it is very healing, soothing and has wonderful curative powers. The inside bark or cambium layer is the part of the slippery elm tree that is used. This inner bark is very helpful for any mucous membrane or tissue that is inflamed. This is true of the urinary organs, especially when inflammation and irritation cause discomfort. There is nothing more soothing and healing to a stomach or digestive tract than slippery elm. When stomach tissue becomes inflamed and when ulcers start to bleed and the stomach wants to reject everything that is offered, you might try a very thin porridge of water and slippery elm.

Slippery elm has been used when the lungs have a problem. It is also good for diarrhea (especially for babies), dysentery, constipation, sore throat, ulcers, bleeding hemorrhoids and even diaper rash. It is also has the ability to neutralize stomach acidity and to absorb foul gases.

The slippery elm tree grew wild mostly in the Easter half of the United States; however, some of these elms have been planted in the West. These American elm, the Chinese elm, Siberian elm and Dutch elm are among the most prevalent in the West. These species and others may not have as thick a cambium layer as the slippery elm, but they can be used for the same purpose as slippery elm.

Slippery elm is very mucilaginous. It contains starch, calcium oxalate, sodium phosphate, selenium, iron, iodine, copper, zinc, and some potassium. It also contains vitamins E, F, K, and P. The elm is a power-house of nutrients.

Slippery elm has meant a lot to the people of this country. The early pilgrims, and the native Americans before them, used this bark, not only as a food supplement in times of famine, but as a medicine in times of sickness. Many of us have forgotten that George Washington and his soldiers at Valley forge not only used slippery elm as tonic and a cure, but for almost two weeks, they lived on little more than slippery elm porridge. Many more stories could be told of how slippery elm powder, made into a paste, healed bed sores when you could see the bone; how this gruel was the only food or moisture that could see the bone; how this gruel was the only food or moisture that could be digested; how slippery elm paste helped replace a chunk of flesh that was gouged out of a leg or how the gruel or porridge helped to heal a bleeding ulcer.

Years ago, slippery elm was very common to our ancestors. It was used in many ways for many different problems, but with progress and modern drugs, it has fallen from popularity. However, you can still buy slippery elm throat lozenges for a sore throat. Learn to use this wonderful herb. Some day, it may save your life!

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