Slippery Elm Benefits & Information

Latin Name

Ulmus rubra

Also Known As

American Elm, Karaagaci, Indian Elm, Grey Elm, Moose Elm, Rock Elm, Red Elm, Sweet Elm, Soft Elm, Tawny Elm


Eastern Half of North America.

Parts Used

Most commonly the bark but also traditionally the roots are used.

Traditional Use and Health Benefits

The Native American Indians were the first to use Slippery Elm as a medicine. Most notably the Ojibwa tribe of Canada were thought to be those who taught the use of Slippery Elm bark to the first North American settlers. The roots of the tree were sometimes decocted to be made into a tonic for the eyes but most uses are attributed to the bark. When Slippery Elm bark comes into contact with liquids it turns the liquid into a gel which has numerous medicinal properties. Topical uses for the bark included using a small sliver to insert into infected wounds which would then excrete its gel-like mucus and blend with the infection. The wound could then be washed of the gel and most of the pus from the infection would be removed with it. Other uses included making a tea from the bark for sore throats and gastrointestinal complaints. Pregnant women would also drink Slippery Elm tea two or three weeks before going into labour to help with an easier birth.



There are a number of actions that contribute to Slippery Elm being a very useful herbal remedy for bowel complaints. The actions the bark has on the body in various applications are thought to be demulcent, emollient, nutrient, bulk laxative and prebiotic. Analysis of the inner bark of Slippery Elm by Gene Spiller in 1981 revealed a unique collection of water-soluble and water-insoluble fibres as well as polysaccharides, tannins and lignin. The fibrous gel that is secreted by the bark has a very soothing effect on the bowel and throat, it expands and coats these areas of the body, cooling inflamed membranes. Modern herbalism imparts the properties for Slippery Elm as being a good remedy for IBS, gastro-oesophageal reflux, diarrhoea, constipation, haemorrhoids and inflammation of the respiratory tract. Research has also shown that Slippery Elm could also help in replacing beneficial bacteria to the intestine as well as externally as a topical treatment for boils, abscesses, small cuts, abrasions and burns. 

Typical Use

Used as a traditional medicine but has been eaten as a food in times of hardship. 

Folklore and History

Before the first European settlers arrived in North America various tribes of Native American Indians revered the Elm tree as a meeting place. They held council beneath the tree and considered it the perfect place to barter treaties with other tribes. When Europeans arrived in North America the native tribes taught them the uses of the Slippery Elm not only a medicine, but also as a ‘last resort’ food. During the siege at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, 1777, George Washington’s troops spent a 12 day period surviving on little more than Slippery Elm bark. The soldiers stripped the bark and then dried it before milling it into a coarse flour before adding water and heating it up. When prepared in this manner the bark has a creamy sweet taste much like oat porridge. Modern science has found that the gel like mixture made from Slippery Elm bark is nutritionally quite similar to oat porridge. This explains how many settlers survived their first winters on little more than Slippery Elm porridge. Another important use of the Slippery Elm during conflict was to clean and heal wounds. The Native Americans showed settlers how the gum would expand in a wound and mix with any infected flesh. Once the gum was washed out it would take any pus with it while also gel coating the wound which would help it heal faster. It has been remarked by some American historians that without the Slippery Elm early North American history might have taken a much different course.

Slippery Elm

Polysaccharides: D-galactose, L-rhamnose and D-galacturonic acid, dietary fibre, starch, tannin, cellulose, lignin, small amounts of polyphenols, mucilages, gums, pectic substances, minerals and fatty acids – oleic, palmitic acids.