Can You Eat Chinese Elm

In the wild, you find many animals and birds foraging in Chinese Elm Trees. Even domestic dogs love the bark and seeds of this beautiful tree. So the question might just come up if you can eat Chinese Elm or the Ulmus Parvifolia as it is known scientifically.

Image courtesy of Jerry Norbury | License details

Wild Food

In nature, there are many plants and trees that have been used as a food source or for their medicinal value. These wild foods have been harvested in areas where your more traditional vegetables and fruit are not farmed for ages. One of the least known food sources is the Chinese Elm. You would be quite surprised to find out how much of the Elm can be eaten. The most common part is the seeds, also called Samaras. The seeds can be harvested and eaten cooked or raw. Also used in cooking is the inner bark. The Cambium or Phloem has got high nutritional value.

You can also eat young sprouting seeds, normally raw or in a salad. Like any other harvest, wild food must be the right food, harvested at the right time, and prepared correctly to be really enjoyed.

Chinese Elm Seeds or Samaras

The seeds of the Elm are known as Samaras. The Elm tree seed starts as tiny flowers that cover the whole tree. Over spring, they mature into seeds. These green, leafy, coin-sized seeds or fruits will form on the trees through spring, just before the leaves appear. They may look like leaves from far away because they grow in such abundance. The seeds contain a high oil and succulent content. The seeds can be harvested and eaten raw or cooked. The seeds taste the best when still light green in color and not turning brown on the edges.

It can be enjoyed fresh from the tree or in a nice green salad. The seeds can be collected from the ground at a later stage when they are dry and brown in color. You must first separate the dry paperlike skin to expose the seeds if you do this. These dry seeds are then ground and used to thicken soups and stews. In cooking, Samaras can be used as a component. You can make a hearty leafy sauce curry using Elm seeds with garlic, kale and spring greens.

Another dish you can cook is a Chinese Elm seed and tomato lamb or wild hog stew. You can use the seeds with garlic, onions and tomatoes. The taste of the seeds is surprisingly great because of the oil content. It also has a pleasant texture and keeps bad breath at bay.

The Inner Bark

The Chinese Elm tree has flaky bark. When this bark is peeled away, it leaves the inner bark, also known as the Phloem or Cambium. This can be marbled orange, gray, brown or green in color. The cambium is sweet in taste as it transports all the sugars and nutrients from the leaves to the roots. It can be eaten raw, but it is more popular to dry it and mill it into a fine powder. The powder can be used to thicken soups or as a flavoring agent.

Chinese Elm Sprouts

The Chinese Elm’s way of propagating is wind-pollination. They rely on many pollen grains flying around to be successful in nature. This makes for big harvests of seeds. These seeds can be planted, and the sprouting seedlings can be used in salads and cooking, or just eaten raw.

Medicinal Value

The Chinese Elm has got great value as medicine. The leaves can be used as an Antidote and a Demulcent. The stem bark is used as a Demulcent, Diuretic, Expectorant, Febrifuge, Hypnotic and Lithontripic. The flowers can be used in the treatment of fever and Neuritis.

Is the Chinese Elm Poisonous?

As with many other more common foods, some people get allergic reactions from eating Chinese Elm. The normal reactions would include red itchy eyes, and skin irritations. Fortunately, this is something that does not happen frequently. Antihistamine can be used to counter the reaction. There were also a very small number of people that complained of toxic reactions. Super sensitive mouth, tongue and throat were the symptoms. This can be treated by drinking milk or water. None of the reactions has caused any hospitalization.

Can your Chinese Elm Bonsai Tree Poison Your Dog?

The short answer is yes. If you have a dog with a tendency for allergies, you best keep him away from your Elm Bonsai tree. Like squirrels and even tortoises, dogs love eating the flowers, seeds, and even bark of the Elm tree. Because of the flaky bark, they can get to the sweet-tasting Phloem by unknowingly destroying your Bonsai tree. Like us humans, some of them are more prone to be allergic to or poisoned by a Chinese Elm. Most dogs will be quite fine with eating Chinese Elm trees but keep them away from your Bonsai trees in general. Wagging tails and overzealousness has caused more damage than them getting poisoned.

Image courtesy of Shaun M Jooste | ©2022 Bonsai Alchemist


Yes, you can eat Chinese Elm. It tastes very good. You can eat it raw or use it in a variety of dishes. Salads, soups, stews, to name a few. The medicinal value is quite amazing. So next time you walk past a Chinese Elm, I am sure you will look at it from a different perspective.

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Deon was born and raised in Johannesburg. A family member introduced him to the art of Bonsai  25 years ago. She was in her seventies and nobody in her close family shared her love for her Bonsai trees. She tutored him in the many styles and techniques which she acquired over years. She also gave him his first Bonsai tree, planted in a beautiful container and about 15 years old. Needless to say, that started an intense partnership between orphaned, broken trees and Deon. On any Saturday you will find him meandering through a nursery looking for the ugly ducklings. Nothing gives him more pleasure than turning this duckling into a beautiful swan. His favorite is deciduous hardwood trees. He loves the seasonal changes. You know it is the start of spring when the minute, rubbery leaves appear. One by one they open until the tree is covered with leaves. Then it’s autumn and they discolor with browns, oranges, and reds, and fall off. In winter you have the bare tree showing all the hard work you have done shaping the branches and trunk. He does like evergreens as well. They show very nicely all year round.

His daughter Leri shares his passion. Which makes it very special. Trading ideas on which branch to cut and which to leave. A family effort. His grandson aged five is also starting to grow his own Bonsai from seeds. So he can still enjoy them fifty years from now. Propagating new trees is a challenge that Deon accepts with a smile. From seeds or cuttings, you name it. He just loves creating new life. While in Johannesburg he also attended monthly Bonsai workshops. According to him attending these workshops are an excellent way to improve your skills. Whether you are a beginner or a master. You will never know every technique, skill, or tip regarding the art of Bonsai. Googling is fine and dandy, but the only way to really understand Bonsai is to get your hands dirty. Experiment, cut and paste and just enjoy. Viva Bonsai!

Deon Hattingh

Deon Hattingh


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