Before the age of antibiotics, herbal medicine was big. It was used to treat almost all acute and chronic disorders. Slippery elm was the go-to herb for gastrointestinal conditions.
Slippery elm has a slippery, glue-like substance in its bark, rich in sugars and polyphenols. These active molecules may repair the skin, gut lining, throat, and intestinal walls and relieve insect bites. Read on to know about its benefits, risks, and dosage.
Table Of Contents
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).
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
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).
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
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).
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. Or you may buy it here. This powder can also be added to your tea while brewing.
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 a traditional remedy for GI tract disorders. Its inner bark has mucilage with excellent therapeutic properties. The complex sugars in this gooey mass can heal a sore throat, gastric ulcers, wounds, psoriasis, and several chronic inflammatory disorders.
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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- Slippery elm, Non-timber Forest Products, Special Forest Products Program, Virginia Tech.
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- Medical nutrition therapy as a potential complementary treatment for psoriasis–five case reports. Alternative Medicine Review, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
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- Women’s Healing Art: Domestic Medicine in the Turn-of-the-Century Ozarks, Women In Health Sciences, Digital Collection, Bernard Becker Medical Library, Washington University School of Medicine.
- Herbal Treatment for Dermatologic Disorders, Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, Bookshelf, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- The use of herbal medicines during breastfeeding: A population-based survey in Western Australia, BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Academia.
- Some structural features of the mucilage from the bark of Ulmus fulva (slippery elm mucilage), Northwestern Scholars, Northwestern University.
- An Integrative Approach to GERD, UW Integrative Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin.
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