Tree Medicine, Magic, and Lore: Elm

By Ellen Evert Hopman
illustration by Will Hobbs

The Elms were important fodder trees for farmers of the Neolithic. The shoots and leaves of Elm, Ash, Linden, Aspen, and Poplar were once used to feed domestic stocks when other food was scarce or unavailable. The barks of both Elm trees and Lindens were used to weave mats, footwear, baskets and wicker. Elm wood was an important material for bows. The Indo-European root word for Elm was most probably “wyg” from which came the Kurdish “viz”, the Low German “wike” and the English “wych” (or witch) from which the words ligature, binding, withy (for weaving), to bend, and to weave were later developed in several modern languages.

Wisewomen and Cunningmen (village counselors, herbalists, midwives and veterinarians) took on the title “Witch” for their ability to bend fate and the future. Wych Elm or Wych Hazel were the names for trees in Britain under which Witches met.

The Elms are a favorite tree of rooks who like to nest in them. In Devon, England it was believed that Elm leaves falling out of season were a portend of cattle disease. Cornish Maypoles were made of Elm trunks. Elms were once called “Elven” among the Anglo-Saxon because they are a favorite of the elves. To strengthen your contact with Wood Elves it is a good idea to bond with one of these trees. Bring it gifts of cider, mushrooms, birdseed, tiny shells, herbs, fertilizer, honey, or song and spend time with it on a regular basis. Once bonding has occurred you can consecrate the relationship with a simple ritual. Wood Elves tend to appear to the seeker after a long night of music and gentle refreshment, under the Elms.

Slippery Elm bark was used by Native American herbalists who wrapped it around a wound. Dried and powdered and then made into a paste by adding water it was applied to injuries to flesh and bone. The tea of the bark, root and leaf was taken to speed bone healing (I have seen it work nicely on carpal tunnel syndrome when the paste was mixed with comfrey leaf and applied daily for one hour for a week).

The powdered bark can be mixed with water to make a jelly that helps urinary and bowel problems, sore throats, scurvy and diarrhea, and which can be eaten as a source of calcium for those allergic to cow’s milk (perfectly safe for babies too).

Slippery Elm poultices are effective for ulcers, tumors, swellings, gunshot wounds, chilblains, and can be placed on the abdomen to draw out fever. Injections of Slippery Elm tea are helpful for dysentery and hemorrhoids. The Iroquois made canoes from Elm as well as sleeping platforms and casks for shelled corn. The Potawatomi used Slippery Elm to poultice inflamed eyes, boils and splinters. Huron women made Elm vessels of various sizes that could hold up to one hundred gallons of liquid. The largest ones were made to hold maple sap.

The Delaware used Slippery Elm to make a paste to keep canoes tight and the Meskwaki used Elm bark to cover their houses. The root of Slippery Elm was boiled to make a tea that eased childbirth when taken for a few months before delivery.

The Penobscot used a tea of White Elm bark for bleeding from the lungs. The Mohegan used it for coughs and colds and the Seneca made bark kettles of Elm, before the kettle was burned through the meat was cooked. The Mohawk twisted Elm bark to make harnesses for sledges.

about the author:

Ellen Evert Hopman is a Druid Priestess, herbalist and author of “Priestess of the Forest: A Druid Journey”, “A Druids Herbal – Of Sacred Tree Medicine”, “Walking the World in Wonder – A Children’s Herbal” and other volumes. Visit her website for more!

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