Also known as the “king of digestive herbs”, Slippery Elm bark is extremely rich in mucilage, the active ingredient that forms the “gruel” that soothes and nourishes the digestive tract. It also coats the mucous membranes and absorbs toxins which can cause intestinal imbalances.
In cases of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Slippery Elm has proved more effective in cases of constipation IBS. In a pilot study published in the “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine”, a formula consisting of Slippery Elm bark powder, Bilberry powder, Agrimony aerial parts and Cinnamon quills was given to 31 patients who fulfilled the criteria for IBS. The results showed a significant improvement in bowel habits and IBS symptoms in the subjects with constipation-predominant IBS. It was not found to be effective in improving the bowel habits of individuals with diarrhoea-dominant IBS.1
There is some evidence to suggest that Slippery Elm may balance the gut microbiome, with one small study finding that it increased the “good” bacteria, Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Bacteroides species, that promote gut health and protect against obesity. The same study found that it also reduced harmful bacteria which can cause inflammation.2
Finally, many people find the soothing qualities of this herb help with acid reflex, also known as GERD. It is thought to be effective at creating a barrier that prevents the stomach acid being released into the oesophagus, causing a burning sensation.
The high mucilage content of Slippery Elm puts it in the class of “antitussive” herbs – meaning it is capable of suppressing and relieving coughing and other upper-respiratory complaints.
It has also been found to be highly effective against sore throats. One study found that an extract of Slippery Elm killed the Streptococcus pyogenes microbe that can cause a sore throat.3
Slippery Elm bark is a common ingredient in herbal remedies for coughs, colds and bronchitis, combining well with marshmallow root, liquorice and boneset herbs.
The powdered bark of Slippery Elm can be used to make a poultice to treat wounds, cuts, boils and insect bites. It acts as an emollient that soothes and softens dry, inflamed skin.
There is also some evidence that Slippery Elm combined with Yellow Saffron as a herbal tea may ease the itching and chafing characterised in psoriasis. One small study combined this tea with a dietary regimen over a 6 month period. All of the subjects reported improvements and the study concluded that although it was effective, more research is needed.4
Folklore and history
Before the first Europeans arrived in North America, various Indigenous peoples of North America 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 the Indigenous peoples 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.
Another important use of the Slippery Elm during conflict was to clean and heal wounds. The Indigenous peoples of North America showed Europeans 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.
Native to eastern North America, Slippery Elm is a large deciduous tree that has a long history of traditional use by the Indigenous people of North America.
Its inner bark has a mucilaginous or “slippery” texture and it is this part of the tree that is used as a herbal remedy for a variety of complaints. It is traditionally used as food and medicine by Indigenous people of North America, effective for digestive complaints, wounds, sore throats, coughs and many other health problems.
It has become very popular once again in contemporary herbalism as a remedy for digestive complaints and more serious conditions such as IBS.
Slippery Elm Bark Powder
Can be blended with a superfood smoothie, mixed with fruit juice, taken simply with water or sprinkled into food.
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.
If you are pregnant, please contact your healthcare practitioner before consuming Slippery Elm.