Herbs & Plants

Ulmus rubra

Botanical Name: Ulmus rubra
Family: Ulmaceae
Order: Rosales
Genus: Ulmus

*Ulmus americana L. var. rubra Aiton
*Ulmus crispa Willd.
*Ulmus dimidiata Raf.
*Ulmus elliptica Anon.
*Ulmus fulva Michx., Loudon, Bentley & Trimen, Sarg.
*Ulmus Heyderi Späth
*Ulmus pinguis Raf.
*Ulmus pubescens Walter

Common Name: Grey Elm, Red Elm, Slippery Elm, Soft Elm. or Indian elm.

Habitat: Ulmus rubra is native to Central and Southern N. America – Maine to Florida, west to Texas and North Dakota. It grows on the rich deep soils, often calcareous, on the banks of streams and low rocky hillsides.

Ulmus rubra is a medium-sized deciduous tree with a spreading head of branches, commonly growing to 12–19 m (39–62 ft), very occasionally > 30 m (98 ft) in height. Its heartwood is reddish-brown, giving the tree its alternative common name ‘red elm’. The species is chiefly distinguished from American elm by its downy twigs, chestnut brown or reddish hairy buds, and slimy red inner bark. The broad oblong to obovate leaves are 10–20 cm (4–8 in) long, rough above but velvety below, with coarse double-serrate margins, acuminate apices and oblique bases; the petioles are 6–12 mm (1?4–15?32 in) long. The leaves are often red tinged on emergence, turning dark green by summer, and then a dull yellow in the fall. The perfect, apetalous, wind-pollinated flowers are produced before the leaves in early spring, usually in tight, short-stalked, clusters of 10–20. The reddish-brown fruit is an oval winged samara, orbicular to obovate, slightly notched at the top, 12–18 mm (15?32–23?32 in) long, the single, central seed coated with red-brown hairs, naked elsewhere.


The species has seldom been planted for ornament in its native country. It occasionally appeared in early 20th-century US nursery catalogues. Introduced to Europe and Australasia, it has never thrived in the UK; Elwes & Henry knew of not one good specimen, and the last tree planted at Kew attained a height of only 12 m (39 ft) in 60 years. Specimens supplied by the Späth nursery to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 1902 as U. fulva may survive in Edinburgh as it was the practice of the Garden to distribute trees about the city (viz. the Wentworth Elm). A specimen at RBGE was felled c.1990. The current list of Living Accessions held in the Garden per se does not list the plant. Several mature trees survive in Brighton (see Accessions). The tree was propagated and marketed in the UK by the Hillier & Sons nursery, Winchester, Hampshire, from 1945, with 20 sold in the period 1970 to 1976, when production ceased.

Edible Uses:
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. It can also be chewed as a thirst quencher. The inner bark has been cooked with fats in order to prevent them becoming rancid. Immature fruit – raw or cooked. The fruit is about 20mm in diameter. A tea-like beverage can be brewed from the inner bark.

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

Other Uses:
A fibre obtained from the inner bark is used to make a twine. The boiled bark has been used for making matting, nets etc. The inner bark has been used in making baskets. The bark has been used as a roofing material. The weathered bark has been used as kindling for starting a fire. 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.

Known Hazards: Outer bark constituents known to cause abortions – avoid during pregnancy.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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