Slippery Elm

Scientific Name(s): Ulmus ruba
Abundance: rare
What: leaves, young fruit, inner bark
How: leaves raw or cooked; young seeds roasted or boiled; inner bark dried then ground to flour or used in tea
Where: woods, waste areas, slight shade
When: leaves in spring, inner bark in spring
Nutritional Value:

Medicinal Summary:
Inner Bark - demulcent; soothes skin and gastrointestinal inflammations; cough suppressant (poultice, tisane)

Leaf Arrangement: Leaves are alternate along the stem.

Leaf Shape: Elm leaves vary among species, but they are generally elliptical to ovate, with serrated margins. Length can range from 2 to 6 inches.

Leaf Venation: Leaves typically have a pinnate venation pattern with the center vein being a bit off-center, resulting in one side of the leaf being longer than the other.

Leaf Color: Foliage color varies among species but is generally green.

Flower Structure: Elm trees are monoecious, meaning they have separate male and female flowers on the same tree. The flowers look like a cluster of short spikes topped with tiny hotdog buns.

Flower Color: Slippery elm flowers are are reddish or purplish. Other species of elm may have green or yellow-green blossoms.

Fruit (Samara): The fruit is a flat, round, samara which look somewhat like small fried green eggs. Dimensions can vary, but they are typically around 1/2 to 1 inch across with a raised center dot.

Bark: Bark appearance varies among elm species. It can be smooth, rough, fissured, or even corky.

Height: Elm trees can vary widely in height, from 30 to 100 feet, depending on the species.

Hairs: The surface of the leaves are covered in tiny, stiff, short hairs that all point towards the tip of the leaf. These hairs cause elm leaves to feel smooth when stroked base to tip, but rough when stroked tip to base.

Wood Color: Heartwood color ranges from light to dark brown.  

Slippery elm tree.

Another slippery elm tree.

Toothy, jagged, asymetrical slippery elm leaves.

Texas distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture. The marked counties are guidelines only. Plants may appear in other counties, especially if used in landscaping.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

The trunks of Slippery Elms (Ulmus ruba) rarely fork until they are twenty feet tall, unlike it's similar cousin the American Elm (Ulmus americana) which forks at as little as five feet tall. The Slippery Elm can also easily be identified by removing a small bit of bark from the tip of a branch. If it feels slippery/slimey you have the right tree. The inner bark of slippery elm trees is a highly regarded herbal medicine. The slimey inner bark is dried then ground into a powder that, when made into tea, has a soothing effect on any part of the body it touches, both internally and externally. The dried powder can also be used as a flour substitute.

Please only harvest the inner bark in an emergency. Slippery elms are under attack by bark-poachers who are stripping the trees to sell the bark illegally. If you must harvest the bark, take it from trees that are ten or more years old and only remove a thin vertical strip covering less than 10% of the tree's circumference. Taking more than this will kill the tree.

The seeds appear in the spring and look like little fried eggs to me. They have a small, flat, circular seed encased in a flat, papery, circular pod. Eat greens one right off the tree. Collect the mature pods and then roast them. This will make the outer pod crisp and easy to remove by grinding the pods between your hands and winnowing the useless chaff from the nutritious seeds. Once collected, the seeds can be ground into a flour or boiled like a porridge.

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