Botanical name: Ulmus rubra
Native origin: Eastern and central United States and into Canada
Part Used In Our Teas: Inner bark
Slippery Elms are tall, flowering trees that grow up to 150 feet, with a wide canopy of branches. The soft inner bark, the part used in herbal medicine, is collected in spring and early summer. It has a smooth, slippery texture when harvested that becomes thick and gooey when mixed with water to support throat health.
Did you know? Dr. John Christopher, a famous herbalist and teacher, said that Slippery Elm is “one of the finest and most valuable medicines in the herbal world.”
The majority of our wild-collected, certified organic slippery elm bark is sustainably collected in steep terrain and dense woods of the Eastern Kentucky Appalachians.
Slippery elm has had a wide range of historic uses. It played a huge role in survival in 18th century America during times of war and food shortages, and might even have changed the entire direction of history: George Washington and his army survived for a time on porridge made from slippery elm bark during the terrible winter at Valley Forge. There are historical reports of pioneer wagon trains surviving entire winters on slippery elm gruel (with a side dish of oxen).
The Chippewa and Ojibwa people of Minnesota and Ontario, used it for their throats. The Cherokee used it to support a variety of health and wellness needs. And utilizing its slippery properties in an entirely new way was Gaylord Perry, a Chicago Cubs pitcher in the 1960s. Known for his famous spitball (before the practice was banned), Gaylord is rumored to have used slippery elm bark he harvested from his dad’s farm to try and make his spitball even more effective.
- People and Planet
Unlike herbs that are cultivated and harvested on farms, slippery elm is gathered in the wild by hand in a practice known as wildcrafting. Wildcrafting is the search and collection of medicinal plants that are naturally occurring in the wild. This knowledge is often passed down from generation to generation, and in many cases the sole means of economic support for families or villages. Fifty percent of our herbs are sustainably gathered in the wild by people around the globe.
Wildcrafting slippery elm is a delicate process, and must be done carefully to prevent severe damage to the tree. The impact of Dutch Elm disease has been devastating, slashing populations. We promote sustainable harvesting, working with our supplier to make sure these beautiful trees are protected. The smooth, soft inner bark is the part of the bark used in our products. To obtain the bark, collectors carefully pry the bark from the tree, pulling off strips several inches wide and up to 10 or 15 feet long. The outer bark is snapped and peeled off during collection, when the bark is still wet, leaving only the slippery inner bark. Only part of the bark is collected from each tree, and the bark regrows with time. Collectors keep track of each tree and know just how many years they need to wait before the next harvest from that tree. Harvesters have observed over time that the bark harvest decreases habitat for insects that spread Dutch elm disease, a disease that has been devastating to slippery elm population. One of the collectors described the elms as “the friendliest trees in the forest. These plants have a mission to give their medicine to us.”
The inner bark of Slippery Elm contains the beneficial compounds found in our teas, while the outer bark must be stripped away. To make sure that enough of the outer bark is removed to meet our quality standard (pharmacopoeial grade), we test the bark’s ability to swell after it is cut for use in tea. Outer bark doesn’t swell, but inner bark does. So a swelling batch of slippery elm means just the right amount of beneficial compounds and is, well…pretty swell for your throat.
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