Scientific Name(s): Ulmus rubra Muhl.
Common Name(s): Indian elm, Moose elm, Red elm, Slippery elm, Sweet elm
The genus Ulmus contains 18 species of deciduous shrubs and trees.Hocking 1997 The slippery elm tree is native to eastern Canada and to the eastern and central United States, where it is found most commonly in the Appalachian Mountains. The tree’s rough bark has vertical ridges and is reddish-brown on the trunk and gray-white on the branches. The slippery elm can grow up to 18 to 20 m in height.Chevallier 1996 In the spring, dark brown buds appear at the branch tips and open into small, clustered flowers.Reader's Digest 1986, USDA 2006 White elm (U. americana) is a related species and has been used for similar medicinal purposes.Chevallier 1996 A synonym is Ulmus fulva Michx.
American Indians and early North American settlers used the inner bark of the slippery elm not only as a material for constructing canoes, shelters, and baskets, but also as a poultice and as an ingredient in a soothing drink.Chevallier 1996, Duke 2002, Tyler 1994 Upon contact with water, the inner bark yields a thick mucilage or demulcent that was used as an ointment or salve to treat urinary tract inflammation. It was also applied topically for cold sores and boils. A decoction of the leaves was used as a poultice to remove discoloration around blackened or bruised eyes. During the American Revolution, surgeons treated gunshot wounds with a similar poultice.Reader's Digest 1986 Early North American settlers boiled bear fat with the bark to prevent rancidity.Duke 2002, Hocking 1997 In the late 19th century, a preparation of elm mucilage was officially recognized in the United States Pharmacopoeia. Other traditional uses of the plant as a demulcent, emollient, and antitussive have been reported.Lewis 1977
Slippery elm contains carbohydrates, including starches, with mucilage being the major constituent,Duke 1992 as well as hexoses, pentoses, and polyuronides.Chevallier 1996, Newall 1996 Other constituents include sesquiterpenes, calcium oxalate, cholesterol (and other phytosterols), and tannins.Chevallier 1996, Lewis 1977, Newall 1996
Uses and Pharmacology
Screening studies have revealed peroxynitrite scavenging activity in the constituents of slippery elm,Choi 2002 as well as evidence of superoxide scavenging in colorectal tissue obtained from patients with inflammatory bowel disease who were treated with slippery elm.Langmead 2002 Another screening study described weak tumoricidal effects for slippery elm.Mazzio 2009
No clinical data exist regarding the use of slippery elm as an antioxidant. Slippery elm is one of several ingredients in the dietary supplements Essiac and Flor Essence, for which antioxidant activity has been attributed,Leonard 2006, Saleem 2009 but the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved either product to treat cancer or any other medical condition.NIH 2015
No animal data exist regarding the anti-inflammatory activity of slippery elm.
One open-label study evaluated slippery elm, in combination with other natural products, for the treatment of symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).Hawrelak 2010 A small study of patients with either constipation- or diarrhea-predominant IBS investigated slippery elm mucilage combined with another polyanionic saccharide (sucrose octasulfate); clinically relevant symptom reduction occurred within approximately 48 hours.McCullough 2013 A study evaluating 5 cases of psoriasis found that daily consumption of slippery elm, in combination with saffron tea, may result in improved psoriasis severity scores.Brown 2004
No animal data exist regarding indications for slippery elm as a mucilage.
The mucilaginous property of slippery elm has been used to treat multiple conditions; however, no clinical studies exist to support such applications.
No clinical studies exist to support dosage guidelines. Traditional use suggests a dosage of 1 to 3 tsp of slippery elm powder in 240 mL of water, up to 3 times a day. Commercial preparations of liquid bark extract are available as are capsules containing 340 mg of slippery elm powder.Duke 2002
Pregnancy / Lactation
Avoid use in pregnancy. Abortifacient effects have been described, although they may be related to vaginal use of whole bark pieces to induce abortion.Duke 2002, Rotblatt 2002 Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented. Because the mucilaginous property of slippery elm may decrease absorption rates of other medicines, it may be beneficial to separate slippery elm doses from those of other medicines by 2 to 3 hours.
Oleoresins from several Ulmus species have caused contact dermatitis, and the pollen of slippery elm is a known allergen.Duke 2002
Research regarding the toxicity of slippery elm is limited.
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