Benefits and Side Effects of Slippery Elm Bark

Elm trees are native to eastern North America from Canada to Georgia, from Texas to Minnesota, but especially in the Appalachian Mountain region. The slippery elm is less susceptible to the Dutch elm disease that ravaged so many of the other species. It is also called red elm, Indian elm, moose elm, and sweet elm.

The Slippery Elm grows to a height of 30 to 60 feet. The leaves are about 6 inches long, growing alternately on the branch, and have a rough texture and coarsely double-serrated edges. The flowers appear before the leaves in early spring in clusters of ten to twenty. The fruit is half an inch long containing a single central seed. Slippery Elm may be distinguished from American Elm by the hairiness of the buds and twigs and by the very short-stalked flowers.

Poachers destroy thousands of slippery elms by stripping the bark in mid June to early July when it is especially easy to peel. Then they sell it for its medicinal value, getting their cut in the $23 billion dollar herb industry in the United States.

Some believe the bark can induce labor, forcing an abortion. When longer pieces of the bark are moistened and inserted into a pregnant woman’s uterus, drugs from the bark are said to cause the woman’s baby to abort. This illegal and immoral practice resulted in so called “Elm Stick Laws” limiting the size of the bark sold in many states. Because of its potential abortafaciant capability,  pregnant or lactating women should not take slippery elm internally. This is the only known hazard in taking the herb.

Elm was used by colonists to make pudding, to thicken jelly, to preserve grease, and as a survival food on long trips. It was used medicinally to treat toothaches, skin injuries, gout, arthritis, stomachaches, coughs, and intestinal worms.

The inner bark was also used to waterproof baskets, canoes, and dwellings. As mentioned above, in times of famine, early American settlers used it as a survival food. George Washington’s troops survived partly on slippery elm gruel during their winter at Valley Forge.

The inner bark is a durable, strong fiber, which can be spun into thread, or made into twine or rope. This quality makes Slippery elm bark useful for bowstrings, jewelry, ropes, snowshoe bindings, clothing, woven mats, and in some musical instruments. The wood was used for the hubs of wagon wheels because of the wood’s interlocking grain. This made it a natural shock absorber. When the wood is cured, it is excellent for making matchless fires with the bow drill method. This is because the wood grinds into a very fine, flammable powder under friction.

Taken externally, slippery elm bark is a bulk dried herb that has been used to treat vaginitis, skin conditions, and hemorrhoids, or to give softer, smoother skin. Internally, many benefit from its use as a cough medicine or to relieve gastrointestinal conditions, sore throats, ulcers, and respiratory irritations.

The recommended dosage for a 150 pound adult is three 500 mg capsules daily. To make a poultice, add coarse powdered bark to boiling water until the desired consistency is reached. Then, when cool, apply it where needed. The proportion for making slippery elm tea is one part powder to eight parts water. One can also sprinkle the powder on oatmeal or in juice. Children’s dosage should be determined proportional to their weight.

So, buy herbs in bulk and experience their life enhancing properties.

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