The Many Fine Qualities of Ulmus pumila
I mentioned in a previous post that jim talks about how Slippery Elm helps prevent herbal oils from going rancid. Well, another thing I’ve noticed is that Elm bark in infusions keeps them from going bad, for days and days…. I recently drank a five day old infusion (I don’t have refrigeration so it was kept fairly cool in the pantry) that tasted like new. A nice addition to the other healing factors of this lovely plant.
The Elm I’m using is often referred to as Siberian Elm, or Ulmus pumila, a native of eastern Asia that has gone rather invasive in the US. It’s considered one of the quickest growing hedge plants available, and certainly it can shoot up out of nowhere even in the semi-arid lands of the SW mountains. Incredibly drought resistant, it can out compete most native plants for water and ground space, and quickly colonizes roadsides, disturbed areas and yards. According to my research, it grows from Utah to Kansas, and north to Ontario, giving it a large range in the Southwest, Midwest and Great Plains. And the USDA map says it grows in nearly every state in the US, with only two or three exceptions, as well as through much of Canada. Because of these conflicting sources, I’m not actually clear on where exactly its range extends to, but I do know that it is common throughout the mountainous SW and Rocky Mountains. It can grow from 50-70 feet, which is funny since pumila seems to mean dwarf.
While I don’t recommend cultivating this Elm where it could become invasive and detrimental to local ecology, I do think that it would a wonderful plant for nearly everyone to regularly use. I’m not very familiar with Slippery Elm, but U. pumila seems to possess all the wonderful qualities ascribed to it, being incredibly mucilaginous, soothing, healing and preservative in nature. I use it in salves, infusions, lozenges, food (as a thickener and general nutritive agent) and as a poultice. The only trick is getting the fibrous bark ground into a powder… Nevertheless, how can you beat this (over)abundant source of medicine? While Slippery Elm can be tricky to find abundantly enough to harvest ethically, and only grows in the East, this lovely Elm is common and easily found throughout the West (and possibly the East as well).
I’ve only used the bark so far, but Darcey suggests that the leaves might also be a wonderful addition to teas and infusions. I have noticed that occasionally a tree has a somewhat bitter taste, though most of them are pleasant and bland. I’m not sure what makes the difference, but I recommend chewing a small piece of bark before harvesting to check how the tree tastes. Also, old sources say to only gather ten year old or older bark from Slippery Elm, but I’m here to tell you that even the newly grown twigs of Ulmus pumila provide great medicine. Sometime soon I’ll have to do some experiments with comparing the different ages of bark, but for now I prefer to gather the twigs so as not to hurt the tree.
My favorite nourishing infusion right now is 4 parts Nettle, 2 parts Raspberry leaf, 1/2 part Elm bark. If you let it sit for several hours, and become cool to cold before straining you end up with a thick, slippery infusion just right for dry, woodstove heated winter days. I tend to prefer mine lukewarm, but it will seem less slimy if you drink it warm. You can of course water this down as much as you like to avoid the super slippery taste, as long as you actually ingest the same amount of infusion. I’m fond of dilute a quart of infusion into a gallon of water and making it my daily beverage.