Slippery elm ( Ulmus rubra ) is a type of elm. It is found in eastern North America from southern Quebec to northern Florida and eastern Texas.
In traditional Native American medicine, the inner bark of the slippery elm is used to heal wounds and gastrointestinal ailments. Slippery elm is also the main ingredient in essiac tea, a herbal tea that supports the immune system.
Slippery elm contains soluble fiber that dissolves in liquid. The soluble fiber found in slippery elm is called mucus .
The mucus traps and absorbs the water, forming a jelly-like substance. This substance has a calming effect , which means that it forms a layer on the mucous membranes . The coating can provide short-term relief from pain and inflammation.
Slippery elm also contains calcium. Calcium can act as a mild antacid .
Unfortunately, research on the effects of slippery elm is limited. Many of the existing studies are small and outdated.
Slippery elm has many names, including:
- Red elm
- Elm gray
- Soft elm
- Elm elk
- Indian elm
Slippery elm should not be confused with American elm ( U. americana ). Slippery elm is similar to it, but it has no medicinal use.
What is slippery elm used for?
Slippery elm has a long history of use in herbal medicine. It is taken orally or applied topically to the skin. Slippery elm is believed to treat the following conditions:
It is also applied topically to the skin to help heal cuts and burns.
Some advocates say that slippery elm can treat other more serious conditions, such as:
To date, there is no clinical evidence to support these claims. This is what is known about some specific applications.
Slippery elm began to appear in commercial medicine in the 1840s, when a physician named Henry Thayer used it to make an elixir. Thayer's formula was sold first as an oral suspension and later as a pill.
Elm is slippery as a natural sedative and can ease a sore throat. It does this by covering the lining of the throat and esophagus.
Thayer's Slippery Elm Lollipops are still on sale today. The company also makes slippery elm-based lip balm. Other manufacturers produce slippery elm extracts, tinctures, lotions, and herbal teas.
In the 1960s, the FDA classified slippery elm as a botanical. It is believed to be safe for treating mild sore throats.
However, the agency did not say how effective it is. Instead, they called it "a sedative with limited clinical effects."
Proponents believe that slippery elm forms a temporary protective barrier in the intestines. To date, the evidence for this is mixed.
A 2002 study found that slippery elm had an antioxidant effect on colon tissue samples from people with ulcerative colitis. The study did not show whether the effect would be the same if slippery elm were ingested.
Other scientists have studied whether slippery elm can control the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Irritable bowel syndrome can be predominant in constipation (IBS-C) or predominant in diarrhea (IBS-D).
A study published in 2010 looked at two different formulations containing slippery elm. The study found that all IBS-C participants who took the supplement reported an improvement in their symptoms. About 75% of IBS-D patients reported similar improvements.
The results of this small study are promising, but more research is needed.
There is some evidence that slippery elm can help with certain digestive ailments, but the research results are mixed. Many studies are small and outdated. More research is required.
Possible side effects of slippery elm
Since research is scant, the safety of slippery elm has not been established. Common side effects include:
Slippery elm can cover your digestive tract . Because of this, it can interfere with the absorption of some medications.
If you are taking other medications, take Slippery Elm at least two hours before or after other medications. Drink plenty of water when you are taking your regular medications, unless otherwise directed.
In folk medicine, the outer bark of slippery elm is sometimes used to terminate pregnancy. There is little evidence that this works. However, those who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should avoid slippery elm.
Slippery elm can cause side effects and some people may be allergic to it. It can also interfere with the absorption of other medications. Take slippery elm at least two hours before or after taking other medications. If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, avoid slippery elm.
Dosage and preparation
There are no guidelines for the use of slippery elm. Slippery elm is considered a safe short-term treatment for a sore throat. This does not necessarily mean that it is safe for other uses. Generally, do not exceed the recommended dose stated on the product label.
Medications for slippery elm are usually made from the powdered inner bark of the tree. Slippery elm can be purchased in a variety of forms, including:
- Lip balms
- Bulk powder
- Tea bags
What to look for
Food additives are not strictly regulated in the United States. They don't need to go through rigorous testing or research. Because of this, quality can vary from brand to brand.
Always buy brand name supplements. Look for products that have been verified by a third party. The United States Pharmacopeia or ConsumerLab are examples of organizations that conduct such tests.
Unfortunately, herbal supplement manufacturers rarely submit products for third-party testing. This means that you may need to act on your own. Try not to be swayed by health claims that may or may not be true.
Always look for known brands of supplements. Do not exceed the dosage indicated on the label.
Elm is a slippery species that is not yet extinct. However, there are serious concerns about its sustainability.
Slippery elm prefers floodplain habitats. Many of these habitats were created for human use. Slippery elm wood has limited commercial value and does not need to be replanted.
Since slippery elm is also vulnerable to Dutch elm disease, very few mature slippery trees remain in the wild.
Slippery Elm is currently on Rhode Island's "Special Cares" list. It is believed to have been destroyed in Maine.
The bark of a slippery elm collected in the wild threatens the survival of this species. You can help protect this species by avoiding the bark of slippery elms collected from wild trees.
The inner bark of the slippery elm is used for many health problems, such as a sore throat and certain digestive disorders. Research on the effectiveness of slippery elm is limited.
Slippery elm can have side effects including nausea and skin irritation. Some people may be allergic to slippery elm.
There are no guidelines for the use of slippery elm. It is considered safe for the short-term treatment of sore throat. When taking it for other conditions, always use the recommended dose. Look for well-known brand products.
Slippery elm is a vulnerable species. You can help protect this tree by avoiding the bark collected from nature.