Slippery elm bark is a herb derived from the Elm (Ulmus) family. Native to Canada and the US, it can be found growing in the Appalachian Mountains. The inner bark is collected from trees which are at least 10 years old, and is mainly powdered for therapeutic use.
So what is slippery elm used for?
Soothing Slippery elm was traditionally powdered and one of its main uses for Native Americans was as a poultice for boils, ulcers and for wounds in general. Other common uses included being used for colds or fevers and to soothe an irritated digestive system – one of its main purposes today.
Slippery elm – uses today
The major use for slippery elm today is for soothing the bowel in conditions of inflammation – especially colitis and IBS – irritable bowel syndrome. It is also similarly helpful in other inflammatory bowel conditions such as diverticulitis and diverticulosis.
Slippery elm Bark is such a specific remedy for helping these conditions that it is almost a crime that doctors and hospital don’t make more use of it. It will often soothe the pain of patients suffering these ailments within a couple of hours. This is not a case of the slippery elm powder hiding the pain; by soothing the inflamed area, the pain – a signal from the body that something is wrong – simply goes away because there is no need for it.
Now, of course, the cause of the condition must still be dealt with – may be it’s a congested colon; maybe it’s a constitution which is easily stressed; but the slippery elm is a great herbal ‘tool’ to help deal with the symptoms, while the cause is being sorted out. Appropriate practitioners might be need to help sort out the causes.
How to use slippery elm
For inflammatory bowel conditions like this, the slippery elm is made into a thin type of ‘porridge’ type of drink. It is sometimes called ‘gruel’ – which sounds pretty awful; and sometimes called ‘tea’ – which sounds as if it is thin; but it is not – it’s quite glutinous. But this is the benefit of slippery elm – its glutinous nature helps it adhere to the inside stomach/intestine walls, and do its job of nourishing and soothing.
Anyone who uses slippery elm is guaranteed a very safe herb; the risk of using it is almost zero. However, you must treat the cause of the problem, as indicated above, or the symptoms will just keep recurring.
You can take slippery elm capsules – but much better to use the powder to make a drink if you can. Just avoid any slippery elm powder with any additives – such as sugar. It simply needs no additives at all.
The nature of slippery elm
The ‘slippery’ part of slippery elm refers to the texture of the herb. This is because of the large mucilage content of slippery elm, which is also responsible for its wonderful healing and soothing action. In most herbal literature this is termed a ‘demulcent’ or an ‘emollient’ agent, which means it is a soothing substance.
It not only soothes and heals all that it comes into contact with, but is highly nutritious. Slippery elm is a wholesome food for the weak and convalescent, from infants to the elderly.
Listed below are some of the most common uses for slippery elm.
Slippery elm makes a wonderfully soothing and healing poultice, applied locally to the problem, for drawing out toxins, especially those associated with boils, spots or abscesses and can assist the removal of splinters.
Applied to wounds, burns and inflammation of any kind, slippery elm is soothing and helps heal, and reduce swelling and pain.
‘A Modern Herbal’ by Mrs Grieves, written in the 1930′s, gives different preparations and combinations of slippery elm for poultices and ointments. Go to www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/e/elmsli09.html to find the online version of Mrs Grieves’ text on Slippery Elm and its uses.
Because of the mucilage content of slippery elm, it can be just as valuable internally as externally.
Internal use of slippery elm
Slippery elm Bark can be used to help soothe many different types of digestive complaints, for example:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Colitis and diverticulitis
- Inflammation of the gut or colic
- Can give instant relief to acid indigestion or ‘reflux’ (this is a common use for Slippery Elm)
- Ulcers anywhere in the gut (stomach & intestines)
- Diarrhoea – especially if mixed with a banana and powdered Marshmallow
As a nutritive (a nourishing herb). Slippery elm powder is a great food for debilitated states, and as a baby food
It can also be useful for urinary infections – cystitis for example.
Traditionally, slippery elm bark is also reported to ease chest, lung and bronchial conditions.
Powder/tea drink – Mix 1 tsp herb with a little water to a paste. Slowly add half a pint or so of boiling water, stirring or whisking all the time. Drink 2-3 cups daily.
Capsules 325mg – 1-8 capsules 3 times daily.
Or follow the instructions on any proprietary pack of a slippery elm product being used.
Combinations With Other Herbs
Slippery elm is often combined with other digestive herbs, such as Aniseed, Peppermint or Cardamom. You may also come across many products formulated for the bowel or kidneys and urinary tract which contain slippery elm and other herbs.
Slippery elm is great by itself for colitis and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). It can also be combined with other herbs including wild yam, bayberry and agrimony to make an excellent combination herbal formula for colitis or IBS. This is great if taken along with slippery elm tea. Find a product, or products, which work for you – either the single herb or a combination of herbs – and continue for a full course of treatment. Have slippery elm tea every day.
Another valuable herb to bear in mind is Cayenne Pepper – Capsicum minimum, which tends to stop bleeding. Cayenne is very, very helpful to counteract any intestinal bleeding. You can take cayenne pepper in water – but it is rather hot, so most people prefer to take capsules. Take 3 capsules a day of Cayenne Capsules for a few weeks or longer if desired. It works very well alongside slippery elm. (But DO visit your doctor to make sure the bleeding has no sinister cause.)
We have an article on the valuable herb, Cayenne Pepper. More information on another site about herbal and other treatments for irritable bowel syndrome – IBS.
Cayenne and slippery elm are two beautifully simple and truly fantastic herbs. When they are needed – they are incomparable. They would both definitely be in this herbalist’s ‘Top ten herbs to have on a desert island.’
There are no-known contra-indications for slippery elm bark – it is a very safe herb.
Slippery elm is an incredibly soothing herb, with fast acting relief for many digestive and bowel problems. It certainly lives up to its reputation.
If you have or are thinking of making a herbal first aid kit, slippery elm powder is an essential component.