Slippery Elm Summary:

Slippery elm is one of the best digestive demulcents around. The mucilage contained in the bark is nutritious, soothing, anti-inflammatory, and promotes movement in the gastrointestinal tract. It can be used internally as a gruel or other solution, or externally as a poultice. It soothes and nourishes the mucous membranes, and reduces the inflammation to allow damaged gastrointestinal tissue to heal again. 

Slippery elm bark can also effectively be used on the skin as well. It makes for a great poultice for inflammed, damaged, or irritated skin. The nutritious poweder is placed in water to expand and become a thick paste, which is then applied to the skin and wrapped. 

Slippery elm can be bought in bulk and made into topical poultices, mixed into a paste for a nutritious gruel, added to shakes, or bought pre-capsulated and taken that way. This is a great herb to keep around the house for its broad range of uses on inflammation and irritation. 


Herbal Actions:

[1, 4, 5]

  • Demulcent
  • Emollient 
  • Nutritive 
  • Expectorant 
  • Astringent
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antitussive

Botanical Name:

Ulmus rubra

Ulmus fulva

 

Family:

Ulmaceae

 

Part used:

Inner bark (Collected in spring)


Dosage

Liquid Extract (1:1) (60% ETOH)

15 ml/day

Nutritious Gruel

Mix 4 g of slippery elm powder in 500 ml water.

Poultice (Topically)

Mix enough slippery elm powder with water to make a paste and apply topically to the area.

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Indications:

Internally

  • Colitis
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Gastritis
  • Diarrhea
  • Convalescence (as nutritive food)
  • Female reproductive problems
  • Pleurisy
  • Inflammed or sensitive mucous membrane linings of the GI
  • Gastric of duodenal ulcers
  • Enteritis
  • To astring the intestinal lining

Topically

  • Boils
  • Burns
  • Abscesses
  • Ulcers
  • Wounds

Common Names:

  • Slippery elm
  • Red elm
  • Gray elm
  • Soft elm
  • Moose elm
  • Indian elm
  • Sweet elm
  • Winged elm

Traditional Uses:

The slippery elm inner bark is an official drug of the United States official pharmacopoeia, where it is listed as a demulcent, emollient, and antitussive [3, 4]. It was a popular Native American remedy that was quickly adopted by European settlers. In the American civil war it was commonly used as an effective wound healer among the soldiers [2]. 

Slippery elm inner bark powder was considered one of the best possible poultices for wounds and boils and all inflamed surfaces by the native American Indians [2, 4].  

Slippery elm has been used traditionally to treat conditions affecting the digestive tract in much the same way that it is used today. Additionally, this herb has been used to treat vaginitis, mouth inflammation, haemorrhoids, anal fissures, varicose ulcers, abscesses, carbuncles, and various skin conditions [2, 5]. 


    Botanical Description:

    The slippery elm tree, can grow up to 12 m high, with leaves up to 15 cm long. [13].


    Habitat Ecology, and Distribution:

    Ulmus rubra, otherwise known as red elm or slippery elm, is native to the eastern portions of North America, but can also be found growing in some of the western portions of North America such as in Florida. It prefers dry, intermediate soils. [6]. 


    Harvesting Collection, and Preparation:

    It is generally recommended that 10 year old bark is used [4]. 

    The mucilage cannot be extracted by alcohol, and only swells in water rather than dissolving into it [4]. 

    The most common method of consuming slippery elm for nutritive purposes is to make a gruel, similar in texture to oatmeal. This can be made by mixing about 5 ml of slippery elm powder with cold water to make a paste. Boiling water is then added to a desired consistency, and can be flavoured with sugar, honey, or spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg. This is a great method of preparation to provide nutrition for infants and invalids [4]. 

    Enemas can also be made from slippery elm bark (2 drachms) by mixing the powder with sugar (1 OZ) and olive oil (1 OZ) and warm milk (1/2 pint) and water (1/2 pint). This combination is suggested for constipation. [4]. 


    Constituents:

    [1, 2, 4, 5, 7-9]

    • Mucilage
      • Polysaccharides
        • galactose
        • 3-methyl galactose
        • L-Rhamnose
        • Galacturonic acid residues
    • Tannins
    • Glucose
    • Polyuronides
    • Capric acid, Caprylic acid, Sesquiterpenes, Oxalate acid
    • Decanoic acid
    • Cholesterol
    • Vitamins
      • Vitamin C
      • Thiamine
    • Minerals
      • Calcium
      • Iron
      • Zinc
      • Magnesium
      • Potassium

    Pharmacology and Medical Research:

    There is a significant lack of scientific research on slippery elm inner bark as medicine. 

     

    Demulcent/Emollient

    Mucilages and mucilaginous plants are hydrophilic, which allows them to trap water. This causes them to swell in size, and develop a consistency similar to gel. Gels in general tend towards having a soothing action on wounds such as burns, ulcers, and irritations. This action also affects the gastrointestinal tract when taken internally. They promote healing of mucosal layers and provide a protective barrier to the damaged tissue. [2, 10, 11]. 


    Toxicity and Contraindications:

    None noted. 


    Cautions:

    • Take away from other medications due to its demulcent effects which may inhibit or reduce the uptake of other medications or herbs [5]. 
    • No data found to support or contraindicate the use of slippery elm during pregnancy. 

    Traditional Chinese Medicine:

    No reports found of slippery elms use in traditional Chinese medicine. 


    Synergy:

    • Marshmallow for digestive  problems
    • Combine with liquorice, marshmallow, and Pleurisy root for pleurisy [4]. 
    • Combine with male fern for tapeworms [4]. 
    • Essiac tea is a famous combination consisting of Ulmus rubra, Arctium lappa, Rumex acetosella, and Rheum officinale. It was developed by the Ojibwa tribe of Canada, and used to treat conditions such as: allergies, hypertention, and osteoporosis. It has more recently been suggested to be useful for cancer, and as an antioxidant as well. There have been a few studies conducted that indicate its usefulness for protecting the DNA of cells, and reducing the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy in cancer patients. [2, 12]. 

    Author:

    Justin Cooke

    The Sunlight Experiment

    Updated: March 2017


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    References:

    1. Barnes, J., Anderson, L. A., & Phillipson, J. D. (2007). Herbal medicines (3rd ed.). London, United Kingdom: Pharmaceutical Press.(Pg. 545-546). 
    2. Braun, L., & Cohen, M. (2010). Herbs & natural supplements: An evidence-based guide Vol. 2. Sydney: Elsevier Australia. (Pg. 916-919). 
    3. Ulbricht C.E, Basch E.M, (2005). Natural standard herb and supplement reference. St. Louise: Mosby.
    4. A Modern Herbal. (1931). Slippery Elm. Retrieved from http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/e/elmsli09.html
    5. Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press. (Pg. 591)
    6. US Forest Service. (n.d.). Ulmus rubra. Retrieved August 2, 2016, from http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/ulmrub/all.html
    7. Beveridge R.J. (1969). Some structural features of the mucilage from the bark of Ulmus fulvus. Carbohydr Res 9 429-439
    8. Duke, J. A. (2016). Dr Dukes phytochemical and ethnobotanical databases. Retrieved August 5, 2016, from https://phytochem.nal.usda.gov/phytochem/plants/show/2060?qlookup=ulmus&offset=0&max=20&et=
    9. Watts, C., & Rousseau, B. (2012). Slippery Elm, its Biochemistry, and use as a Complementary and Alternative Treatment for Laryngeal Irritation. Journal of Investigational Biochemistry, 17-23. doi:10.5455/jib.20120417052415
    10. Mills, S., & Bone, K. (2000). Principles and practice of phytotherapy: Modern herbal medicine. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
    11. Morton, J. (1990). Mucilaginous plants and their uses in medicine. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 29(3), 245-266. doi:10.1016/0378-8741(90)90036-s
    12. Leonard, S. S., Keil, D., Mehlman, T., Proper, S., Shi, X., & Harris, G. K. (2006). Essiac tea: Scavenging of reactive oxygen species and effects on DNA damage. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 103(2), 288-296. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2005.09.013
    13. Bean, W. J. (1970). Trees & Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles, 8th ed., p. 656. (2nd impression 1976) John Murray, London. ISBN 9780719517907
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