The slippery elm is a type of deciduous tree that is a native of eastern North America. Slippery elm trees can grow to around 20 meters in height, with a trunk of 50 centimeters in circumference. The slippery elm is known by a number of different names. In alternative medicine, dietary supplements, and skin care products it is often referred to as ulmnus fulva or ulmus fulva. This is the name attributed to the species by French botanist Andre Michaux in 1803. However, botanists prefer to refer to the slippery elm as ulmus rubra, the name given to it in 1793 by Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg, a clergyman and botanist from Pennsylvania.
The healing properties of the inner bark of the slippery elm were first identified by Native Americans. It remains an effective alternative medicine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes slippery elm as a nutritional supplement.
It is specifically the inner bark of the slippery elm that has anti-inflammatory properties, not the whole bark. It can be used to soothe sore throats, reduce coughing, and treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The inner bark of slippery elm also has beneficial properties for intestinal conditions such as diarrhea and inflammatory bowel disease. Slippery elm soothes internal inflammation because it is a demulcent. This means that it contains high levels of natural oils that line the digestive tract. It also promotes the production of additional mucus by stimulating the nerves of the digestive tract.
The antioxidant properties of slippery elm contribute to its anti-inflammatory properties. By protecting the digestive tract from the oxidizing action of free radicals, slippery elm helps to protect the digestive tract from inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, together with GERD.
The inner bark of slippery elm is removed and turned in to a powder, which can be ingested in a number of different formats. It can be made in to a soothing tea or infusion by the addition of 2 cups of boiling water to 4 grams or 2 tablespoonfuls of powdered slippery elm. The infusion should be left to steep for approximately 5 minutes before consumption. Alternatively, it can be ingested as a capsule, tablet, or lozenge. When taking slippery elm in capsule or tablet format, it should be consumed with a large glass of water to assist with its demulcent action. The method by which slippery elm is ingested will be determined by the purpose for which it is being taken. Lozenges are effective for treating sore throats as they enable the slippery elm to sooth the affected area as the lozenge is sucked.
Topical application of slippery elm can treat burns and boils. In order to treat such conditions, slippery elm should be made in to a poultice. Powdered slippery elm is mixed with water to make a paste and then applied to the affected area. The poultice can then be covered with a webbed bandage. Slippery elm should not be applied to broken skin or open wounds.
Slippery elm is used as an ingredient in some skin care products. It is valued by skin care manufacturers for its anti-inflammatory properties, which are useful for treating dry, chapped skin and sunburn. Slippery elm can also be found in acne treatments because it has antiseptic properties. Slippery elm contains small amounts of salicylic acid, which is beneficial for renewing and regenerating the skin.
Slippery elm has few side effects. However, it should not be taken by pregnant women because the external bark of the slippery elm tree can trigger a miscarriage. The demulcent effect of slippery elm can interfere with the efficacy of other medication because it slows down the process of digestion. To prevent this effect, slippery elm should be taken at least two hours before any other medication or other herbal supplement.
Slippery elm trees can live for around 200 years and are extremely robust, being one of the few species of elm tree that is resistant to Dutch elm disease. However, the popularity of slippery elm as an alternative medicine is having a severe impact on the slippery elm population. Because these preparations require the inner bark of the tree to be removed, it cannot survive the stripping of the bark.