“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” – Greek proverb
Deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains there’s a forest of herbal medicine. Slippery elm trees stand tall in these woods and are responsibly harvested each spring for their medicinal inner bark. The bark is harvested by wild collectors, who’re part of a lineage of artisans who hold the knowledge of how to collect with love and reverence for this great species.
Collectors take only what is needed, so the health of the forest can be maintained and preserved for the generations to come. The inner bark has a smooth silky feeling when it’s harvested, and once it’s cleaned, dried and cut for tea, it still retains its properties. The silky feeling in the inner bark is from what we call mucilage, a smooth, slippery substance (and quality marker) that forms when the bark is combined with water. This makes the herb very soothing and helpful for promoting throat health.* It’s why the inner bark of the slippery elm tree is one of the main ingredients in Throat Coat tea, a mainstay beverage adored by singers, actors, public speakers and anyone who’s eager to give their throat some love.
Our wild collectors know how to harvest inner bark from slippery elm trees in such a way that the trees can heal and the bark grows back healthy. They leave a vertical strip of bark a foot or more wide on the tree, so it continues to thrive and can be harvested again in several years. Poor harvesting practices, in combination with Dutch elm disease, contribute to slippery elm’s current at-risk status. We can help restore wild plant populations by investing in products that are responsibly crafted, supporting United Plant Savers (an organization committed to protecting native medicinal plants in the U.S. and Canada) and by growing our own medicine gardens.
In combination with slippery elm, we’ve added licorice and marshmallow root to enhance the tea’s silky texture. These two powerful herbs are also soothing and are great at promoting throat health.* Fennel, cinnamon and orange peel are added in smaller amounts, giving the blend a sweet and slightly earthy taste. Because this blend has so many hearty herbs and roots in the mix, it’s even more potent when prepared as a decoction. This is an herbal term for a preparation that is much like a tea, the only difference is that the herbs are simmered in water anywhere from 10-45 minutes (in this case 10 would do) in a covered pot. While it’s best to use Throat Coat as a tea or decoction, we occasionally use it in an herbal hot toddy when we’re feeling adventurous!
The next time you’re enjoying a cup of our warm, soothing Throat Coat tea, we hope you remember the stewards of these forests of medicine. Not only do wild collection practices preserve ecosystems, they also pass along a tradition of medicine to future generations.