Slippery Elm: Nature’s Soothing Herb

by Melissa Chichester

Is slippery elm in your wellness routine?

Slippery elm is a large, flowering tree native to North America. It can reach up to 50 feet in height and its bark has a gummy texture on the outside and a slimy texture on the inside. It is related to the American elm and is sometimes called red elm or moose elm. However, unlike slippery elm, the American elm does not have wellness uses. 

It isn’t common to hear about slippery elm and its benefits today. However, this herb has endured the test of time and is still used today. 

Historical uses of slippery elm

Historically, slippery elm has been used in traditional health practices by Native Americans. It was also eaten by Native Americans, as the bark is edible raw or when boiled. The leaves of the slippery elm tree can be ground up and used as tea. Early pioneers were introduced to slippery elm by Native Americans and chewed on slippery elm bark to quench their thirst. 

In the 1840s, physician Henry Thayer – the creator of Thayer’s Natural Remedies – used slippery elm in his original formula for throat lozenges. This formula is still sold today. Thayer’s also uses slippery elm in their lip balm formulas to promote moisturization. 

During the Civil War in the 1860s, slippery elm bark was used for dressing wounds, and many soldiers drank slippery elm tea. 

Health benefits of slippery elm

What makes slippery elm unique is that it contains mucilage, a gel-like substance that provides a soothing coating.* In plants, mucilage helps store water and food. It is also involved in seed germination. 

Mucilage becomes a slippery gel when it is mixed with water or fluids. Mucilage from slippery elm is an ingredient in throat lozenges that creates a soothing feeling. Because of its soothing properties, slippery elm has been used for centuries.* 

Unique facts about slippery elm

Besides its use in wellness, the slippery elm tree has had many other uses throughout history.  

Baseball pitchers throwing spitballs used to chew slippery elm tablets to improve saliva used to make the ball curve during the pitch.

Furthermore, the bell yoke of the original Liberty Bell – or the part from which the bell hangs from – is constructed by wood from a slippery elm tree. 

Singers frequently use slippery elm lozenges to keep their throats moist while singing. 

Slippery elm is also an ingredient in essiac tea – an herbal tea originally developed by the Ojibwa tribe of Canada. This formula was then popularized and sold by Canadian nurse Rene Caisse. Today, essiac is sold as a supplement for immune support.*