Slippery Elm

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    Last Updated: April 10, 2023

    Slippery elm is a species of tree found in the United States and Canada. Its inner bark is ingested (often as a tea) to treat symptoms like sore throat, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome, although it’s difficult to say whether it’s actually helpful for these conditions.

    Slippery Elm is most often used for

    What is slippery elm?

    Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) is a species of tree found primarily in the eastern and central United States. It gets its name from its inner bark, which forms a slick gel when wet due to a high abundance of mucilaginous polysaccharides.

    Slippery elm bark has a history of use as a treatment for pharyngitis (sore throat) and various gastrointestinal (GI) ailments, although there is very little research to support its benefits for these conditions.

    What are slippery elm’s main benefits?

    Slippery elm bark is claimed to help soothe sore throats when consumed as a tea. One randomized controlled trial found that people with sore throats who drank tea made with a small amount of slippery elm bark experienced a rapid reduction in throat pain.[1] The tea contained mostly licorice root as well as several other herbs, making it difficult to attribute the effect to slippery elm.

    Slippery elm is said to help with GI issues. In 2 single-arm (i.e., without a control group) trials, people who took supplements containing slippery elm, along with a number of other herbs and compounds, reported improvements in some GI symptoms like abdominal pain and constipation.[2][3] Given the noncontrolled nature of these studies, it’s quite possible the benefits seen were not actually related to slippery elm.

    What are slippery elm’s main drawbacks

    There are very few human studies on slippery elm, so its potential drawbacks are an area of uncertainty, although clinical trials that tested slippery elm in combination with other compounds suggest that it is relatively safe.[3][1][2] It is sometimes recommended that slippery elm be avoided during pregnancy, based on unconfirmed reports of miscarriage associated with its use.

    How does slippery elm work?

    The polysaccharides in slippery elm might be able to form a barrier over mucosal surfaces, thus reducing throat irritation when drank as a tea. Additionally, slippery elm contains a variety of phytochemicals that may inhibit bacterial growth and inflammation of epithelial cells.[4][5] Slippery elm also appears to increase the abundance of butyrate-producing bacteria in the gut microbiota.[6]

    What are other names for Slippery Elm

    Note that Slippery Elm is also known as:
    • Ulmus fulva
    • Red elm
    • Gray elm
    • Soft elm
    • Moose elm
    • Indian elm
    • Winged elm
    Slippery Elm should not be confused with:

    Dosage information

    Slippery elm bark can be taken as a tea or in capsules. For sore throats, the tea is likely preferable.

    Frequently asked questions

    What is slippery elm?

    Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) is a species of tree found primarily in the eastern and central United States. It gets its name from its inner bark, which forms a slick gel when wet due to a high abundance of mucilaginous polysaccharides.

    Slippery elm bark has a history of use as a treatment for pharyngitis (sore throat) and various gastrointestinal (GI) ailments, although there is very little research to support its benefits for these conditions.

    What are slippery elm’s main benefits?

    Slippery elm bark is claimed to help soothe sore throats when consumed as a tea. One randomized controlled trial found that people with sore throats who drank tea made with a small amount of slippery elm bark experienced a rapid reduction in throat pain.[1] The tea contained mostly licorice root as well as several other herbs, making it difficult to attribute the effect to slippery elm.

    Slippery elm is said to help with GI issues. In 2 single-arm (i.e., without a control group) trials, people who took supplements containing slippery elm, along with a number of other herbs and compounds, reported improvements in some GI symptoms like abdominal pain and constipation.[2][3] Given the noncontrolled nature of these studies, it’s quite possible the benefits seen were not actually related to slippery elm.

    What are slippery elm’s main drawbacks

    There are very few human studies on slippery elm, so its potential drawbacks are an area of uncertainty, although clinical trials that tested slippery elm in combination with other compounds suggest that it is relatively safe.[3][1][2] It is sometimes recommended that slippery elm be avoided during pregnancy, based on unconfirmed reports of miscarriage associated with its use.

    How does slippery elm work?

    The polysaccharides in slippery elm might be able to form a barrier over mucosal surfaces, thus reducing throat irritation when drank as a tea. Additionally, slippery elm contains a variety of phytochemicals that may inhibit bacterial growth and inflammation of epithelial cells.[4][5] Slippery elm also appears to increase the abundance of butyrate-producing bacteria in the gut microbiota.[6]