There are several trees that carry strong medicines. While visiting Robbie Wooding’s farm this past weekend, he demonstrated for us the process of harvesting the inner bark of slippery elm. Typically slippery elm should be harvested in spring when the sap is rising, but trust me, I chewed a bit of what we harvested and it was still very effective, not to mention delicious, in its softly sweet and subtle way.

When harvesting for bark, you want to strip the bark as soon after cutting as possible. Robbie cut a slippery elm limb the day before for our use, then cut it into manageable segments, 2 to 3 feet long.

The next step is called “rossing,” in which you use a rasp to scrape the outer bark away (pictured below), being careful not to scrape away any of the white inner bark. Leaving a little of the outer bark is okay, certainly preferable to losing good medicine.

Robbie demonstrates rossing the outer bark off

Once you’ve rossed the wood, you can use a drawing knife to peel the inner bark away from the wood. On a smaller piece of wood, I personally found it easier to use a pocket knife to score both sides of a strip and then peel it away. The inner bark when fresh is just slightly whiter than the wood, and once you find the layers, it seems to come pretty easily. Dry the strips of inner bark and chew it like gum, add pieces to your cooking, or powder it to mix into your food or digestive tonic of choice.

Using a draw knife to peel off the inner bark

NOTE: In harvesting bark, sustainability is key. Please take the time to look into sustainable harvesting techniques, endangered species information, etc. And it’s always good to plant for the future. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”