Ulmus davidiana, commonly known as yugeunpi, has a long history of use in Korea in treating burns, eczema, frostbite, difficulties in urination, inflammation, and psoriasis,1 and has also been used in China for some of these indications, including skin inflammation.2,3 Currently, there are several areas in which the bioactivity of U. davidiana are under investigation, with numerous potential applications in dermatology. This column focuses briefly on the evidence supporting the traditional uses of the plant and potential new applications.
Eom and colleagues studied the potential of a polysaccharide extract from the root bark of U. davidiana to serve as a suitable cosmetic ingredient for conferring moisturizing, anti-inflammatory, and photoprotective activity. In this 2006 investigation, the composition of the polysaccharide extract was found to be primarily rhamnose, galactose, and glucose. The root extract exhibited a similar humectant moisturizing effect as hyaluronic acid, the researchers reported. The U. davidiana root extract was also found to dose-dependently suppress prostaglandin E2. The inhibition of the release of interleukin-6 and IL-8 was also reported to be significant. The use of the U. davidiana extract also stimulated the recovery of human fibroblasts (two times that of positive control) exposed to UVA irradiation. The researchers suggested that their overall results point to the viability of U. davidiana root extract as a cosmetic agent ingredient to protect skin from UV exposure and the inflammation that follows.2
In 2013, Choi and colleagues found that a methanol extract of the stem and root barks of U. davidiana revealed anti-inflammatory properties, with activity attributed to two trihydroxy acids [then-new trihydroxy fatty acid, 9,12,13-trihydroxyoctadeca-10(Z),15(Z)-dienoic acid, and pinellic acid], both of which blocked prostaglandin D₂ production.4
That same year, Lyu and colleagues studied the antiallergic and anti-inflammatory effects of U. davidiana using a 1-fluoro-2,4-dinitrofluorobenzene (DNFB)–induced contact dermatitis mouse model. They found that treatment at a dose of 10 mg/mL successfully prevented skin lesions caused by consistent DNFB application. Further, the researchers observed that topically applied U. davidiana suppressed spongiosis and reduced total serum immunoglobulin and IgG2a levels. Overall, they concluded that the botanical treatment improved contact dermatitis in mice.1
In 2019, So and colleagues studied the chemical components of U. davidiana root bark (isolating a chromane derivative and 22 known substances) and reported data supporting the traditional use of the root bark for gastroenteric and inflammatory indications.3
Bakuchiol [(1E,3S)-3-ethenyl-3,7-dimethyl-1,6-octadien-1-yl]phenol, a prenylated phenolic monoterpene found in the seeds and leaves of various plants, including U. davidiana, is used for its anti-inflammatory properties in traditional Korean medicine.5 Choi and colleagues determined that bakuchiol exhibited robust anti-inflammatory activity in a study of U. davidiana constituents, at least partially accounting for the anti-inflammatory functions of the plant.5
In 2021, Alishir and colleagues conducted a phytochemical analysis of the root bark extract of U. davidiana, resulting in the isolation of 10 substances including the novel coumarin glycoside derivative ulmusakidian. Some of the compounds exhibited antifungal activity against Cryptococcus neoformans, though none demonstrated antifungal activity against Candida albicans.6