INDIAN ELM TREE - USED IN TRADITIONAL MEDICINE: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF INDIAN ELM TREE
INDIAN ELM TREE, HOLOPTELEA INTEGRIFOLIA
The Indian Elm tree is native to the Indian subcontinent and is distributed through
, Myanmar and Thailand and Sri Lanka Oceania. It is a member of the Ulmaceae family and so is related to the Slippery Elm of North America and the Wych Elm (Ulma glabra) found in Europe.
This deciduous tree usually grows to heights of 18 metres and produces dry, winged seeds in a circular casing. It is grown in some countries as an ornamental and has slightly aromatic leaves. The seeds produce oil and most parts of the tree are used for medicine in the Indian subcontinent.
The stem bark contains the minerals iron, copper, manganese, zinc and the heavier metals of cobalt, cadmium, and chromium. Mercury and arsenic are also reported but in amounts permissible in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines. In one study, September – October 2008, The Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Vol. 70 (5) A. Saraswathy et al “Antioxidant, heavy Metals and Elemental Analysis of Holoptelea integrifolia Planch” found that the stem bark was a “promising source of potential antioxidants.” It has also been found to have some anti-bacterial properties.
The parts of the tree are traditionally used as remedies for a number of diseases, most being skin problems. The ground leaves are made into a paste and applied to bald places to regenerate hair growth in cases of alopecia. Both bark and leaves from the Indian elm are astringent, bitter and used to get rid of intestinal worms, for the treatment of diabetes, intestinal problems, rheumatism and leprosy. Made into a paste these parts can also be applied to help wounds heal faster. Traditionally healers use medicines from the tree to treat inflammation, piles, menstrual problems and biliousness too.
The stem leaves and bark contain saponins, tannins, carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids, phenolic compounds (flavonoids), as well as the minerals and metals already mentioned, so there is some scientific evidence to support some of the traditional medicinal uses of this tree. What activities the individual components have are yet to be investigated fully.
The mucilage and juice of the boiled bark is applied externally to relieve the pain of rheumatism, and to help abdominal tumours. The bark juice alone is applied to rheumatic swellings, and a paste made of the oil-containing seeds and stem bark is used on skin diseases and eczema and ringworm. A paste made from the stem bark is applied externally to inflammations of the lymph gland, for fever, scabies and ringworm too. A paste made with the leaves and bark is used to treat leucoderma. Yet another treatment for eczema is to boil the bark in the oil of Pongamia glabra (the Pongam or Indian Beech tree) with garlic for external application.
The wood from the tree is used in the construction industry, for boat building, carvings and toys, furniture, handles for brooms and so on, cabinet-making, fuel and charcoal, paneling, plywood and poles etc.
Clearly it is a very versatile tree with many practical uses in its native habitat.