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The Supplement Made From Tree Bark That Calms a Singer’s ‘Chronic Sore Throats’

Photo: Niia

Niia is a singer-songwriter whose latest album Il: La Bella Vita is out now.

When I’m not performing, I spend a disproportionate amount of time online looking for dogs to adopt. And when I’m not doing that, I’m researching things to help with vocal health. I am that person who is constantly clearing her throat (in a borderline annoying way), and have always been plagued with chronic sore throats and seemingly endless postnasal drip — which are terrible for anyone, but especially so when you’re a professional singer.

I don’t remember how I found slippery elm — but like a fairy godmother, once it entered my life, things were never the same. Other throat-soothing and vocal-health products I tried either completely numbed my throat (Throat Coat), stripped me of mucus due to their acidity (lemons), or were just plain gross (raw egg whites). What first struck me about slippery elm, by contrast, is that taking it feels like nothing — but not long after I started to take it, I noticed I was clearing my throat less and less.

Slippery elm, I learned, takes its name from the tree it’s derived from: the Ulmus rubra, also known as the slippery (or red, gray, or soft) elm tree, which is identified by its “slippery” inner bark and grows across the United States. Slippery elm supplements like the ones I use contain a type of soluble fiber known as mucilage, which traps and absorbs water to create a gel-like substance that coats mucous membranes in the throat (and digestive system) — kind of like how chocolate sauce gives a syrupy coating to a scoop of ice cream. And that coating can help relieve inflammation and pain, studies show. I later learned that slippery elm has long been used by Native Americans and in commercial products from as far back as the 1800s.

The supplement comes in various forms, including liquid extracts, capsules, powders, and lozenges. I’ve found all of them to be effective — though I always opt for alcohol-free versions because anything with alcohol dries you up (they also taste more natural). Lately, I’ve been taking it in the above powder form, and usually mix the supplement with tea or water. I would describe the the taste as similar to a boring bowl of oatmeal, but I have a go-to recipe to improve that: Add a tablespoon of slippery elm powder to some hot water and then mix in a teaspoon of honey, 3 ounces of almond milk, a half teaspoon of cacao, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. If I’m going to be out and about, I’ll often keep a bottle of liquid slippery elm in my purse so I can add a few drops to my water bottle. And, of course, slippery-elm lozenges are just as portable.

Since I started taking slippery elm every day, not only has my throat-clearing died down, but I’ve noticed my postnasal drip has slowed and my voice has never sounded better. My throat has also never felt better. I think a lot of that has to do with how the supplement coats it to help soothe strain caused by singing, but also because the slippery elm coats my digestive system to protect it against spicy foods that might cause acid reflux. (I’m Italian, and I just can’t part with my marinara sauce.) Strangely, I had never really heard much about slippery elm before I started taking it, and kind of wanted to keep the secret to myself. But it’s truly something I think everyone should know about, so now I sing its praises to anyone who will listen.

From $20 for 2

The slippery elm liquid extract I’ll carry in my purse.

The slippery elm lozenges I use. They are tangerine-flavored and include vitamin C.

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A Singer’s Go-to Supplement to Calm ‘Chronic Sore Throats’