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Ulmus rubra - Muhl.                
Common Name Slippery Elm
Family Ulmaceae
USDA hardiness 3-7
Known Hazards Outer bark constituents known to cause abortions - avoid during pregnancy [301].
Habitats Rich deep soils, often calcareous, on the banks of streams and low rocky hillsides[43, 82].
Range Central and Southern N. America - Maine to Florida, west to Texas and North Dakota.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of lolypop
Ulmus rubra is a deciduous Tree growing to 20 m (65ft) by 15 m (49ft) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 3 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Mar to May, and the seeds ripen from May to June. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Wind.Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Synonyms U. fulva. Michx. Ulmus crispa. Willd. Ulmus pendula. Willd.
Ulmus rubra Slippery Elm

Ulmus rubra Slippery Elm
Woodland Garden Canopy;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Fruit;  Inner bark;  Leaves.
Edible Uses: Tea.

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[2, 14, 46, 55, 171]. It can also be chewed as a thirst quencher[227]. The inner bark has been cooked with fats in order to prevent them becoming rancid[257]. Immature fruit - raw or cooked[177]. The fruit is about 20mm in diameter[200]. A tea-like beverage can be brewed from the inner bark[257].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Demulcent;  Diuretic;  Emollient;  Expectorant;  Nutritive.

Slippery elm bark is a widely used herbal remedy and is considered to be one of the most valuable of remedies in herbal practice[4]. In particular, it is a gentle and effective remedy for irritated states of the mucous membranes of the chest, urinary tubules, stomach and intestines[254]. The inner bark contains large quantities of a sticky slime that can be dried to a powder or made into a liquid[229]. 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[4]. Ten year old bark is said to be best[4]. Fine grades of the powder are best for internal use, coarse grades are better suited to poultices[238]. 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[254]. The inner bark is demulcent, diuretic, emollient, expectorant, nutritive[4, 21, 165, 213]. It has a soothing and healing effect on all parts of the body that it comes into contact with[4] and is used in the treatment of sore throats, indigestion, digestive irritation, stomach ulcers etc[222]. It used to be frequently used as a food that was a nutritive tonic for the old, young and convalescents[222]. It was also applied externally to fresh wounds, burns and scalds[222]. The bark has been used as an antioxidant to prevent fats going rancid[222]. The whole bark, including the outer bark, has been used as a mechanical irritant to abort foetuses[238]. Its use became so widespread that it is now banned in several countries[238].
Other Uses
Fibre;  Kindling;  Roofing;  Tinder;  Wood.

A fibre obtained from the inner bark is used to make a twine[189, 257]. The boiled bark has been used for making matting, nets etc[257]. The inner bark has been used in making baskets[257]. The bark has been used as a roofing material[257]. The weathered bark has been used as kindling for starting a fire[257]. 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[46, 61, 82, 227].
Cultivation details                                         
Prefers a fertile soil in full sun[188], but can be grown in any soil of at least moderate quality so long as it is well drained[1]. Plants are hardy to about -10°c[238]. A moderately fast-growing tree, living about 200 years in the wild[229], but although perfectly hardy, this species does not usually thrive in Britain[11]. Trees are often harvested in the wild for their edible inner bark, the 'slippery elm' that can be obtained from chemists and health food shops[K]. Trees have been over-exploited in the wild, plus they have also suffered from Dutch elm disease. As a result they are becoming much less common[238]. The slippery elm is very susceptible to 'Dutch elm disease', a disease that has destroyed the greater part of all the elm trees growing in Britain. The disease is spread by means of beetles. There is no effective cure (1992) for the problem, but most E. Asian, though not Himalayan, species are resistant (though not immune) to the disease so the potential exists to use these resistant species to develop new resistant hybrids with the native species[200]. The various species of this genus hybridize freely with each other and pollen is easily saved, so even those species with different flowering times can be hybridized[200].
Seed - if sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe, it usually germinates within a few days[200]. Stored seed does not germinate so well and should be sown in early spring[200], it requires 2 - 3 months stratification according to another report[113]. 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[80]. 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[200].
Related Plants                                         
Latin NameCommon NameEdibility RatingMedicinal Rating
Ulmus alataWinged Elm20
Ulmus americanaAmerican Elm, Gray Elm, Water Elm22
Ulmus davidianaJapanese Elm20
Ulmus glabraWych Elm, Table-top Scotch Elm, Scotch Elm32
Ulmus japonicaJapanese Elm21
Ulmus laciniata 20
Ulmus macrocarpa 21
Ulmus parvifoliaChinese Elm, Lacebark Elm21
Ulmus proceraEnglish Elm32
Ulmus pumilaSiberian Elm, Hybrid elm22
Ulmus thomasiiRock Elm10
Ulmus villosaCherry Bark Elm10
Ulmus wallichiana 11
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[4]Grieve. A Modern Herbal.
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.
[11]Bean. W. Trees and Shrubs Hardy in Great Britain. Vol 1 - 4 and Supplement.
A classic with a wealth of information on the plants, but poor on pictures.
[14]Holtom. J. and Hylton. W. Complete Guide to Herbs.
A good herbal.
[21]Lust. J. The Herb Book.
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.
[43]Fernald. M. L. Gray's Manual of Botany.
A bit dated but good and concise flora of the eastern part of N. America.
[46]Uphof. J. C. Th. Dictionary of Economic Plants.
An excellent and very comprehensive guide but it only gives very short descriptions of the uses without any details of how to utilize the plants. Not for the casual reader.
[55]Harris. B. C. Eat the Weeds.
Interesting reading.
[61]Usher. G. A Dictionary of Plants Used by Man.
Forget the sexist title, this is one of the best books on the subject. Lists a very extensive range of useful plants from around the world with very brief details of the uses. Not for the casual reader.
[80]McMillan-Browse. P. Hardy Woody Plants from Seed.
Does not deal with many species but it is very comprehensive on those that it does cover. Not for casual reading.
[82]Sargent. C. S. Manual of the Trees of N. America.
Two volumes, a comprehensive listing of N. American trees though a bit out of date now. Good details on habitats, some details on plant uses. Not really for the casual reader.
[113]Dirr. M. A. and Heuser. M. W. The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation.
A very detailed book on propagating trees. Not for the casual reader.
[165]Mills. S. Y. The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism.
An excellent small herbal.
[171]Hill. A. F. Economic Botany.
Not very comprehensive, but it is quite readable and goes into some a bit of detail about the plants it does cover.
[177]Kunkel. G. Plants for Human Consumption.
An excellent book for the dedicated. A comprehensive listing of latin names with a brief list of edible parts.
[188]Brickell. C. The RHS Gardener's Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers
Excellent range of photographs, some cultivation details but very little information on plant uses.
[189]Bell. L. A. Plant Fibres for Papermaking.
A good practical section on how to make paper on a small scale plus details of about 75 species (quite a few of them tropical) that can be used.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[213]Weiner. M. A. Earth Medicine, Earth Food.
A nice book to read though it is difficult to look up individual plants since the book is divided into separate sections dealing with the different medicinal uses plus a section on edible plants. Common names are used instead of botanical.
[222]Foster. S. & Duke. J. A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants. Eastern and Central N. America.
A concise book dealing with almost 500 species. A line drawing of each plant is included plus colour photographs of about 100 species. Very good as a field guide, it only gives brief details about the plants medicinal properties.
[227]Vines. R.A. Trees of North Texas
A readable guide to the area, it contains descriptions of the plants and their habitats with quite a bit of information on plant uses.
[229]Elias. T. The Complete Trees of N. America. Field Guide and Natural History.
A very good concise guide. Gives habitats, good descriptions, maps showing distribution and a few of the uses. It also includes the many shrubs that occasionally reach tree proportions.
[238]Bown. D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
A very well presented and informative book on herbs from around the globe. Plenty in it for both the casual reader and the serious student. Just one main quibble is the silly way of having two separate entries for each plant.
[254]Chevallier. A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants
An excellent guide to over 500 of the more well known medicinal herbs from around the world.
[257]Moerman. D. Native American Ethnobotany
Very comprehensive but terse guide to the native uses of plants. Excellent bibliography, fully referenced to each plant, giving a pathway to further information. Not for the casual reader.
[301]Karalliedde. L. and Gawarammana. I. Traditional Herbal Medicines
A guide to the safer use of herbal medicines.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Fallon Tate Tue Feb 12 2008
Can this plant help to restore the Adrenal glands, the production of estrogen and other menopause related problems? ULMUS RUBA (SLIPPERY ELM)
Elizabeth H.
glenda Tue Jul 7 2009
I understand that slippery elm is good for sufferes of hernia. With this in mind and living in Spain I tried to buy some from local herbalist who did not know the name even with the latin name, they sold me a shaved bark to make an infusion with named belarrak.It does not go slimy so I wonder if thiis is not correct. Please advise.
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