6 Slippery Elm Benefits For Health, How To Take, & Side Effects

Medically Reviewed by Vd. Naveen Sharma, BAMS
Written by Swathi Handoo, MSc (Biotechnology), Professional Certificate In Food, Nutrition & Health

The benefits of slippery elm were being valued long before the emergence of antibiotics. This glue-like substance was used in treating many acute and chronic disorders, including gastrointestinal issues.

The active molecules in this ingredient also relieve insect bites and repair the gut lining, intestinal walls, throat, and skin. It has a slippery consistency in its bark that resembles glue. Slippery elm is a rich source of polyphenols and sugars that are responsible for most of its benefits. Learn more about them in the article below.

What Is Slippery Elm?

Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) a.ka. red elm, soft elm, or Indian elm, is a medium-sized forest tree native to the woods, streams, and hills of Northeastern Canada, Florida, Texas, and parts of  Central America (1), (2).

It gets its name from the whitish, gummy, inner bark. It feels chewy and slippery when ingested. The redness of the inner bark gives it the scientific name “rubra”   (1), (2), (3).

This slippery, chewy feel is because of the mucilage or glue-like substance in its bark, which swells (about 60-40 times) when soaked in water. It can be used as a soothing ointment/gel and has several therapeutic benefits (4), (5).

The elm’s mucilage protects the inner lining of the gastrointestinal tract from excess gastric juices and pathogens. It may help treat conditions like hyperacidity, GERD, leaky gut, sore throat, etc.

The leaves, bark, and fruit of this tree are also being studied for their medicinal values. Ironically, slippery elm has rough and pale leaves.

In combination with herbs like triphala, licorice, etc., this plant extract is an Ayurvedic remedy and a potent prebiotic (4). In the following section, you will discover the different ways this mucilage can heal you. Scroll on!

What Are The Benefits Of Slippery Elm?

The glue-like secretions effectively control disorders of the GI tract. Slippery elm may also help in treating a sore and itchy throat, diarrhea, and other inflammatory conditions.

1. Relieves Gastrointestinal Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD arises when the muscles (sphincter) at the junction of the food pipe (esophagus) and stomach get inflamed. This causes the stomach acids to flow back into the esophagus, giving you a heartburn.

You may also experience severe acid reflux and a burning sensation in your gut and chest. Such cases need medication that relaxes the sphincter muscles and tones down the inflammation present. Remedies incorporating herbs like slippery elm have shown great relief (6).

Slippery elm can be combined with marshmallow to make cold infusions or a water-based gruel (6). Mix 1-2 tablespoons of the elm’s powder in a cup of water and take it after meals and before bedtime. Such mixtures work as demulcents to soothe inflamed gut muscles (7).

2. Eases Sore Throat, Cough

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Native Americans used tea made from the inner bark of this herb to heal sore throat, cough, and inflammation of the pharynx (pharyngitis). Slippery elm is often found in lozenges, softgels, and cough medications (5), (8).

Its mucilage soothes throat inflammation caused due to flu, allergies, or infections. Slippery elm stimulates the cell lining of your throat to produce more mucus (5), (8).

Elm extracts have flavonoids, quinones, alkaloids, triterpenes, and polyacetylates, which are responsible for this demulcent effect (9).

3. Manages Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)

IBD describes two distinct chronic conditions: ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease (CD). UC primarily affects the colon, whereas CD may involve any portion of the GI tract from the mouth to the anus. These conditions make IBD extremely debilitating (10).

The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agents from alternative herbal medicine have effectively controlled its severity. Slippery elm, tormentil, Mexican yam, licorice, aloe vera, and curcumin are a few options that have been successfully tested in this regard (10), (11).

Most of these ingredients, including slippery elm, exhibit potent antioxidant activity. They scavenge the free radicals produced by inflamed gut cells. Colon biopsies from patients with UC show reduced free radical release after this herbal treatment (11), (12).

4. May Control Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic skin disease characterized by sharply defined, red patches covered with a silvery, flaky surface. What causes this condition is still unclear. Weather, stress, and genetic factors may make people susceptible to psoriasis (13).

Since there’s no known cure yet, modern research is trying to improve the quality of life in these patients. Ancient medicine prescribes the use of anti-inflammatory herbs, including chamomile, aloe vera, slippery elm, flaxseed oil, tea tree oil, and turmeric to deal with psoriasis. Slippery elm may hydrate your skin (13), (14).

The elm may also prevent the psoriatic patches from itching and chafing. That’s why yellow saffron and slippery elm herbal infusion/tea has shown positive outcomes in several studies (13), (14), (15), (16).

5. Improves Diarrhea And Constipation

A tea brewed from the inner bark of slippery elm was used as a laxative by the Native Americans. It is also a diuretic, thereby increasing water and salt excretion from your body. These properties may help one deal with constipation and hemorrhoids (5).

This plant tones down gut inflammation. Having its infusions controls diarrhea, as per ancient medicine and recent research (5).

Dilute one teaspoon of slippery elm powder/extract in warm water. Mix well and drink at room temperature for relief (17).

6. Treats Wounds, Cuts, And Bites

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The mucilage in slippery elm is used to treat skin ailments. The bark is powdered to make poultices. It is said that settlers, tribes, and soldiers used these poultices to treat wounds, cuts, boils, and insect bites (5), (18), (19).

It acts as an emollient by smoothening and softening your skin. The slippery elm mucilage quickly swells into a gooey mass when mixed with water. It can, therefore, work on dry or mildly inflamed skin (19).

Food For Thought

  • Slippery elm is commonly consumed by pregnant and lactating women across the world. Other herbs that are considered safe during breastfeeding include ginger, cranberry, ginseng, dandelion, milk thistle, gingko biloba, garlic, fenugreek, dong quai, senna, and licorice (20).
  • This herb treats cold and cough, and its tea was given to women for easy and smooth labor (5), (13).
  • Most women tend to self-medicate during pregnancy or nursing. In fact, studies report that medical practitioners and midwives did not suggest the use of these herbs to their patients (20).
  • Slippery elm has not shown severe toxic/adverse effects in these cases. However, it is recommended that you take it (or any herbal supplement) only on medical advice.

The medicinal properties of this herb can be attributed to its phytochemicals. These polyphenols can scavenge free radicals. They also reduce the levels of inflammatory compounds that may cause the above-listed conditions. Find more details below.

Phytochemical Composition Of Slippery Elm

The inner bark of slippery elm contains oleanolic acid, ursolic acid, betulinic acid, uvaol, botulin, ß-carotene, ß-sitosterol, and citrostadienol (9).

It has a high content of polysaccharides/complex sugars. D-galacturonic acid, L-rhamnose, and galactose residues predominantly form the mucilage. Starch, gums, pectin, and lignin are also abundant in this herb (4), (21).

These unique molecules can alter your gut microbes. The polyphenols enhance your immunity. Hence, slippery elm is known to be a digestive and wound-healing aid.

How do you use it? Where can it be found?

How To Take Slippery Elm

Take 1-2 tablespoons of slippery elm bark powder in a glass of water after meals and before bedtime. This could soothe GERD and other related gastric troubles (22).

You can find dried slippery elm bark powder easily on the market. This powder can also be added to your tea while brewing.

This herb is available as capsules, lozenges, and cream/ointment. You could also find unprocessed shards of its inner bark.

But is it safe to take slippery elm every day, given its wild origin? Are there any risks linked to its intake?

What Are The Side Effects And Risks Of Taking Slippery Elm?

Herb-drug interactions have been commonly observed and studied. Slippery elm (or its supplements) binds to various drugs. They should not be taken together (23).

It is best to take this herb at least 2 hours before/after any drug intake (23). The elm mucilage may alter the absorption/impact of orally-ingested drugs.

However, there is not a lot of literature explaining the side effects of slippery elm. Most lab trials show almost no toxicity.

Although folklore recommends the use of slippery elm in pregnant and lactating women, there is insufficient scientific evidence supporting its safety.

Therefore, consult your healthcare provider about this herb. Understand its safety and follow the dose prescribed for you.

Slippery elm is commonly used in traditional medicine to address digestive issues. Its inner bark is rich in mucilage and has excellent healing properties. The benefits of slippery elm can be attributed to its active compounds like sugars and polyphenols. There is some evidence that slippery elm may relieve GERD and IBD and treat sore throat, wounds, and psoriasis. However, slippery elm supplements may interfere with the effectiveness of other medications. Also, there are no sufficient scientific studies to support the use of slippery elm in pregnant and lactating women. Hence, consult your healthcare provider before using this natural remedy.

If you wish to give complementary medicine a shot, talk to your doctor about slippery elm. For your safety, have this herb only if prescribed/advised. Do not self-medicate.

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Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Check out our editorial policy for further details.
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Vd. Naveen Sharma

(BAMS, Ayurveda Specialist)
Dr. Naveen Sharma is a renowned Ayurveda specialist with an experience of 10 years. He completed his Bachelor’s degree in... more

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