Slippery Elm (biological name is either Ulmus rubra or Ulmus fulva) is a well-known and valued tree of the Americans and Canadians. They also often call it Red Elm, Grey Elm, Soft Elm, Moose Elm or Indian Elm.
Ulmus rubra is from Elm (Ulmaceae) family. This is a deciduous tree, growing up to 60 feet tall, with tough spreading branches, which form an open crown. The leaves of the tree are alternate, oblong-ovate (about 6 inches long), and with toothed margins. They are green and hairy (especially from beneath) with the tendency to become darker in autumn.
However, flowers appear in early spring before the leaves develop on the tree. The blossoms are small greenish stalkless flowers gathered in the clusters of 10 or more. They fade giving raise to the fruit, which is a round papery samara with smooth margins and a single seed inside in the center. The buds and twigs of Slippery Elm are covered with dense wool or hairs, which distinguishes it from the American Elm.
The outer bark of the tree has deep fissures. The inner bark – the most valuable part of Slippery Elm - is smooth (or “slippery”) and reddish in color (which explains the tree’s common names).
Slippery Elm is native to the North America and grows wildly and abundantly in the Appalachian Mountains and in many other parts of the United States and Canada.
Ulmus rubra prefers moist atmosphere, but cannot tolerate damp soil. Good drainage and intermediate soil is best for the tree.
The inner bark of the 10-years old trees is collected in spring to be used medicinally.
These days the popularity of the Slippery Elm remedies grows, thus various forms of its inner bark are available on the market: starting with the flat pieces or powdered (finally or coarsely) bark and finishing with capsules and tablets with Elm as the active ingredient or lozenges and syrup with the tree bark powder as the additional component.
Slippery Elm contains various chemicals: starch, sugar, calcium, amino acids, iodine, bromine, and small amounts of manganese and zinc. The most valuable component of the tree bark is mucilage, found in abundance and used for medicinal purposes.
It is known that mucilage consists of complex carbohydrates, which are easily digested by the human digestive tract and possess several important health benefits, first of all, for this particular system of the body. To be more precise, mucilage covers the stomach and intestines soothing the inflammation and irritation of the lining and creating a sort of the protective layer in this system. In addition, it stimulates the nerve endings in the lining of the digestive tract, which results in the improved production of the mucus by the stomach itself.
Scholars define the bark of Slippery Elm as an effective expectorant, diuretic, demulcent, and emollient. It is also a good antiseptic and antibacterial agent. Having good pain-killing properties, the tree bark is used internally, as well as externally to soothe pain of different origins.
It is also worthy of mentioning that mucilage is not toxic, so it can be used even by infants. Besides, it is capable of nourishing the body having nutritional profile somehow similar to the oatmeal, thus it can be used as food too.
Slippery Elm has been used by Native Americans for centuries. They made not only remedies to be taken internally, but externally as well. It results in the wide range of health disorders treated with the bark of this tree. Digestive problems are, perhaps, the most common conditions treated with Slippery Elm. Here belong:
- ulcerative colitis and peptic ulcers,
- Crohn’s disease,
- irritable bowel disease,
Skin disorders, as cuts, scrapes, wounds, burns, boils and inflammatory conditions, were healed with the help of Slippery Elm remedies applied topically. They may also be applied to the joints affected by rheumatism and arthritis. Moreover, women used bark pieces to induce abortions, and they worked so effectively that in some countries it was necessary to forbid selling the bark whole, allowing only the powdered forms.
Respiratory infections, bronchitis, pleurisy, sore throats and coughs are the main diseases treated with Slippery Elm today. Patients with urinary tract infections, dysentery, and kidney problems also benefit from these herb’s preparations. It is assumed that even cancers may be treated with them.
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