Disclaimer: This week’s Forage Friday post deals with a plant that is mostly gathered for its herbalism value. The information is only presented as trivia and should not be mistaken for an endorsement of treatment. Ad always, I encourage you to do your own research and seek the advice of a professional for any medical conditions.
There are few trees in North America that are more majestic than a mature elm tree. The tree has a beautiful spreading canopy that reminds me of an open umbrella.
Image Titled “Tipple Elm On Route 60” shows the spread of an American Elm
Even in it’s damaged state the mature elm near a coal tipple outside of Montgomery, West Virginia has a majestic canopy.
The American Elm is capable of reaching a height of 120 feet tall. That’s a little taller than a 10 story building. By contrast, the Japanese make beautful Bonsai trees from elms.
When I started reading about elms for tonight’s post I was actually a little surprised to find that the elm in general has such rich and vibrant history. In 1765 the first meetings of resistance to the British taxes took place under an American Elm in Boston, Massachusetts. That particular tree was the actual “Liberty Tree” referenced by the Founding Fathers. In 1775 the British felled that tree which lead to proliferation of the American Elm being planted as Liberty Trees and even the elm being used on some of the first revolutionary flags.
Elm wood has an interlocking grain that makes it really stable and dimensionally sound. That made it a great wood for things like bows and wheels. Elm chariots were found in a military inventory list in ancient Greece and Greek plows had parts made from elm wood. Elm rots on the ground like any other wood but it’s apparently able to resist rotting in water. Because of this it was prized for building ships and was even the material of choice for the original London Bridge.
When we talk about elm in a Foraging we’re usually referring to slippery elm which also called red elm. It’s the inner bark where the all the medicinal value is. The bark is mucilaginous and has a mild spicy flavor. It was used to treat a wide variety of complaints from simple coughs and colds to bullet wounds. It seems that Native Americans used both white and red elm for the same purposes.
Oddly enough, the FDA has actually given the stamp of Approval for elm bark to used in treating sore throat.
The inner bark has been dried and ground into powder for use as food by many cultures. It’s said that a broth made from elms is good for convalescing children and elders.
In 1812 the Norwegians used strips of elm bark to get through a famine. According to the Wikipedia article elm bark contains 45% crude protein and less than 7% fiber. I have to presume that the rest is carbohydrates. The inner bark of various kinds of trees are used similarly and having actually tasted a few I’m going to say that the pleasant flavor of elm bark could make it a good addition to the others that are not so pleasant.
While we tend to think of foraging as a human activity we also have to recognize that animals need to eat to. Especially if those animals are intended to sustain us in some way. Again, elm turns up as an option there as well. In the Himalayan mountains elm is,so popular as a good fodder for livestock that there’s concern about deforestation. I have a belief that this would be an easy problem to overcome with good propagation techniques and paddock rotation. Elm seems to coppice well and it’s a pretty fast growing tree. I have one that reached a height of 15 feet tall in 8 short years and that’s with me trimming it back every so often.
All of this is really just scratching the surface of what elm trees have to offer and that’s without going into detail about Dutch Elm Disease that has almost taken away the American Elm like Chestnut blight took the American Chestnut. But perhaps we’ll save that for a different post.
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