Slippery Elm Uses

Learn the benefits of Slippery Elm trees, including how to use it as a natural health remedy.

| January/February 1977

Slippery Elm Benefits

We seldom think of it now as food. But foremost among the survival rations recommended to early white settlers by the native North Americans those pioneers found here ... was the inner bark of the slippery elm tree (Ulmus fulva or rubra).  

When dried and ground into a coarse meal, the sweetly fragrant and creamy white or pinkish inner bark of the slippery elm can be boiled into a porridge that looks and tastes very much like oatmeal. And, surprisingly enough, modern nutritionists have discovered that, when so prepared, the bark does indeed possess a food value about equal to that of oatmeal.

This almost forgotten fact actually helped to change the course of our nation's history on at least one occasion. It is recorded that, during their bitter winter at Valley Forge, George Washington's ragtag Revolutionary War soldiers lived through one 12-day period on little more than slippery elm porridge. And no one, of course, knows how many starving pioneer families scraped through their first winters on this continent thanks to the same survival rations.

Slippery elm's inner bark, on the other hand, does have its other uses too. When ground to a fine powder, it makes a good extender for ordinary flour and can be included that way in a wide variety of recipes. And back before today's sugar-laden treats were so widely available, small boys were fond of stripping off pieces of this cambium bark and chewing it. Such a "chaw" makes a sweet-flavored, long-lasting chewing gum that both satisfies thirst and supplies a certain amount of nourishment.

A Home Remedy for Sore Throats and Other Medical Uses

Almost every back-country homestead up until a generation or two ago knew that slippery elm had yet other values ... medicinal values. The late Euell Gibbons recommended pouring a pint of boiling water over an ounce of the coarsely ground inner bark, allowing the mixture to cool, and then adding the juice of one-half lemon and enough honey to sweeten the brew to taste. Our pioneer forebears treated colds with such a "lemonade" and it was especially recommended for feverish patients. "Allow them to drink all they will take," said Gibbons in his book, Stalking the Healthful Herbs, "for this drink will quench their thirst and help relieve their illness by giving them strengthening, easily digested food at the same time."

A somewhat similar formulation (one heaping teaspoon of finely powdered bark mixed into enough cold water to make a paste and then quickly stirred into a pint of boiling water and flavored with cinnamon) popped up again and again in early American almanacs, herbals, and medical guides. According to such old manuals, it's good for almost anything that ails you: catarrh, colitis, coughs, colds, dysentery, painful urination, pleurisy, quinsy, influenza, bleeding from the lungs, and consumption ... to name just a few of the illnesses that were treated by this beverage. And, for folks who weren't suffering any of these ailments, the same drink — taken lukewarm just before bedtime — was prescribed as a sleep inducement.

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