The inner bark of the slippery elm contains mucilage, a compound that transforms into a gelatinous substance when combined with water. This reaction is by far the most beneficial component of slippery elm, but the bark also contains antioxidants advantageous to your health, as noted in the University of Maryland Medical Center's article on this substance. Though scientific evidence is limited on its true benefit, slippery elm has shown promise in treating a number of different medical conditions.
One of the more common uses of slippery elm bark revolves around gastrointestinal issues. The article "Slippery Elm" on the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's website explains that the inner bark of the slippery elm can create a film over the mucus membranes of the digestive tract when ingested. This film, coupled with the antioxidants found in the slippery elm, helps to lessen inflammation and relieve minor pain or discomfort associated with Crohn's disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, inflammatory bowel disease and ulcerative colitis. It may also be beneficial in the treatment of peptic ulcers and diarrhea.
Another common use for slippery elm bark is in the treatment of respiratory or bronchial issues, according to the article "Slippery Elm" by the United States Department of Agriculture. The soothing film produced upon ingestion is known to ease sore throats and coughs associated with the common cold or flu. Its anti-inflammatory properties may also be beneficial is lessening the inflammation associated with bronchitis, and thereby reducing shortness of breath, cough and chest discomfort brought on by this respiratory condition.
The University of Maryland Medical Center article on slippery elm also lists skin conditions as another potential use for slippery elm bark. The topical application of the inner bark is known to create a film atop the skin similar to that produced within the digestive tract. The film relieves the inflammation and irritation associated with burns, wounds, abscesses and boils, which can help reduce pain and discomfort. However, it does nothing to speed recovery. It's also thought to be useful in treating psoriasis.