Ulmus rubra or Ulmus fulva is a tree native to North America which is said to have medicinal properties. It is colloquially known as slippery elm due to the slimy interior of the natural bark. This interior is also red in color, giving slippery elm other common names such as red elm, but is also known as grey elm, soft elm, or Indian elm for other reasons. This inner bark is what is cultivated for medical use. Originally, Native Americans used the mucus like secretion of the inner bark in healing salves and to treat other topical issues. It has been said that Native Americans and settlers alike consumed a concoction of slippery elm mucus in water in order to survive when food was scarce, due to its high level of carbohydrates. In addition, it may have also been consumed to treat sore throats, coughs and stomach issues, among other ailments. It is thought that certain compounds within slippery elm may be responsible for some of the medicinal properties that it portrays. One of these compounds are antioxidants, which may be responsible for some of the antiinflammatory properties that herbal remedy users explain slippery elm to have. Furthermore, it is thought that a compound in the mucus of slippery elm actually causes the human digestive tract to secrete more mucus of its own in response to ingestion, which may help protect the inner lining of the bowel from ulcers and other unpleasant digestive issues.
Nowadays, the inner bark of slippery elm is often formed into powder to be added to supplements, medicines, teas, and throat lozenges. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database suggests that slippery elm is “possibly effective” for treating sore throats, but suggests that there is “insufficient evidence” to suggest that it helps with any other commonly associated ailments. This database suggests that slippery elm really does increase mucus secretion in the throat, and contains chemicals that might reduce pain in the throat from various illnesses.
One warning that a handful of health and wellness websites suggest to look out for is that the coating of the digestive tract that slippery elm may result in a slowed or decreased absorbance of other drugs or supplements. There is also speculation that slippery elm supplements may be related to miscarriages; some sources suggest that slippery elm has been taken by women, both orally and vaginally, with intention to abort a fetus. While there is not much scientific evidence that slippery elm can help or hurt the body, one should certainly consult their doctor before taking any supplements of this type.
From writing these blog posts, I have learned about a lot of various herbal remedies and traditional medicines. While a lot of them prove to have medicinal benefits that are at least somewhat scientifically backed, there is little information out there about slippery elm. The main use for slippery elm cited by many health and wellness websites suggests it to improve symptoms of a sore throat. However, with the uncertainty of other adverse effects, I would suggest to stick to more well known natural remedies for sore throats, like lemon and honey, or typical lozenges without supplemental herbs. However, if you are still curious to learn more about slippery elm I would encourage you to look into it further to see what more you can find. As always, please be cautious when using supplements or herbal remedies, but it is always promising to hear about the medicinal potential of our natural surroundings.