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Elm Leaves

Elm Leaves

The Elm

The Camperdown Elm
The Langton Elm
The Treaty Elm


According to Tree Yoga (see references below), the Elm is attuned to the spiritual properties of communication, love, letting go and freedom but:

"The elum hateth man and waiteth"

This proverb refers to the negative side of the "letting go" and "freedom" properties mentioned above. Don't climb, or stand under an elm tree: they have a habit of dropping heavy branches, often weighing over a ton, without warning. When I was a kid growing up in Ipswich, I remember two boy scouts, camping in a nearby field under an elm tree in a storm, were killed when the tree dropped a large branch on to their tent.

Orpheus and Eurydice However, elms are less common than they once were. The hurricane in the late seventies felled many of them; many more fell victim to Dutch Elm disease between 1960 and 1990. The disease is spread on a fungus (Ophiostoma) carried by the elm bark beetle (Scolytus) which embeds itself under the bark when it reaches a certain thickness. New, healthy young elms grow but when they reach a certain age and thickness of bark, the disease strikes again. This leaves the elm frozen in time and unable to reach maturity. However, while Britain is depleted of elms, they are one of the great deciduous species which grow all over the world.

The tree has a long association with man; its leaves have been used for animal fodder since the stone age. The tree stood at the crossroads leading to the fairy world, and so an Old English name is "Elven Wood," ("Elfenholz" in German) which indicates its association with the spirit world and the elm has been associated with death rituals both in Ancient Britain and Classical Greece. In England the wood was used traditionally for coffins while the ancient Greeks planted it in graveyards. Orpheus bewailed the loss of his love Euridyce with his lyre, beneath an elm tree. His enchanting song was so full of grief and despair that all of the forest animals gathered around and even the wind stopped to listen and an elm grove sprang up from the sound of his lyre. According to Virgil, the tree was found in the underworld.

The genus Ulmus (Elm) first appeared in the Miocene period about 40 million years ago. There are about thirty or forty species of elm; it is difficult to say exactly how many for two reasons. There are several which appear to be hybrids and there are some local species which appear to have been vegetatively propagated and the seeds are sterile. They are deciduous, hardy trees native to the northern, temperate zone. The English elm (Ulmus procera) is native to Western and Southern Europe. The Wych Elm (ulmus glabria) is widespread from Europe to Siberia. The tree occurs as far north as latitude 67N at Beiarn in Norway and has also been successfully introduced to Narsarsuaq, near the southern tip of Greenland (61N). The American Elm (Ulmus Americana) inhabits North America.

The Elm in Healing

Infusions from the inner root bark have long been used to treat colds and coughs, diarrhoea, internal bleeding and fever, both by Europeans and by native North Americans. The same infusion is also applied externally on wounds. Culpeper states that the elm is a cold, Saturnine plant and that the leaves, bruised and applied, heal "green wounds". He also says that the leaves or bark used with vinegar "cureth scurf and leprosy very effectively", while the water found in the bladders of the leaves is very effectual in cleansing the skin.

The Choctaw and Iroquois tribes drink elm infusions in order to soothe menstrual problems. The tree essence balances the heart and energises the mind. Modern herbal medicine mostly uses the slippery elm (ulmus fulva) as this contains the highest mucilage content. This makes it more soothing to irritated mucous membranes.

Culpeper credits the elm with a furthur range of treatments from curing balkdness to healing broken bones. A poultice made from the bark ground with brine and pickle is, he says, effective against gout.

The Camperdown Elm

This tree was found growing wild on the Earl of Camperdown's estate, near Dundee, in 1835 by his head forester, David Taylor. It is a natural mutation of Scotland's native Wych Elm. The tree provided early cuttings which enabled it to be propagated all over the world. However, the original still survives, standing only ten feet high, with its impossibly convoluted branches which twist and turn and double back on themselves.

The Treaty Elm

The Langton Elm

This grew in Sherwood Forest and was a large tree that "was for a long time so remarkable as to have a special keeper", according to a book published in 1881.

The Treaty Elm

the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, is said to have entered into a treaty of peace with native Indians under a picturesque elm tree immortalized in a painting by Benjamin West, in what is now Penn Treaty Park, although no documentary evidence exists of any such treaty. The tree was immortalised in a painting by Benjamin West.

West made the tree, already a local landmark, famous by incorporating it into his painting after hearing legends (of unknown veracity) about the tree being the location of the treaty. On March 6, 1810 a great storm blew the tree down. The tree had a circumference of 24 feet and it was estimated to be 280 years old.


Acknowledgements and further reading:

Tree Yoga - a WorkbookSatya Singh and Fred HagenederEarthdancer
The Heritage Trees of Britain and Northern IrelandJon Stokes and Donald RodgerConstable
The Oxford Companion to English LiteratureSir Paul HarveyOUP
The Observer's Book of TreesFrederick Warne & Co. Ltd.
The Meaning of TreesFred HagenaderChronicle Books
The Complete HerbalNicholas CulpeperGreenwich Editions

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Ken James 2008