When it comes to supporting bronchial, digestive, and skin health, your first thought may not be to consider trying a dietary supplement, a lozenge, or drinking a tea made of the inner bark from the slippery elm tree. However, the bark of slippery elm has not only been used as building materials for hundreds of years, but it also has amazing potential health benefits! Find out more in this article.
What is Slippery Elm?
Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra, Ulmus fulva), also known as red elm, moose elm, or Indian elm, is a medium-sized, large-leaved elm tree of the genus Ulmus that is a member of the forest and ornamental shade trees of the family Ulmaceae, native to North Temperate areas. Slippery elm can specifically be found growing in eastern and central North America including in the U.S. and Canada. (1, 2)
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a slippery elm tree can typically grow more than 20 meters high and can live to be 200 years old. It has red, brown, or orange tree branches that grow downward in a canopy forming the shape of an open crown. It also features oblong, stiff leaves that are unequally toothed with hairs on both sides; stalkless flowers arranged in dense clusters; and leaf buds covered with a dense yellow wool. (3, 4) Its inner bark, which is officially recognized for its medicinal properties by the U.S. Pharmacopoeia, has deep fissures and a gummy texture. (5, 6)
Read on to learn how slippery elm may help support your respiratory, bronchial, digestive, and skin health!
How Is Slippery Elm Used?
The inner bark of slippery elm is harvested from wild trees during a stripping process that does not usually hinder the tree’s growth. The “slippery” substance in the inner bark (the mucilage) is then dried and powdered for medicinal purposes. When mixed with water, the mucilage forms a glue-like gel. When ingested, it forms a filmy barrier against the damaging effects of stomach acid on the esophagus helping to soothe the throat, stomach, and intestines with anti-inflammatory effects. (7)
The inner soft bark, or bast, of slippery elm is produced by the vascular cambium (plant tissue), which has some similarities to human tissue by absorbing and transferring nutrients throughout the organism. (8) Pharmacologists have discovered that plants with mucilage “possess biologically active principles [and] have in common a beneficial effect on burns, wounds, ulcers, external and internal inflammations and irritations, diarrhea, and dysentery.” (9) Slippery elm is also noted for its nutritional value which includes calcium, amino acids, antioxidants, carbohydrates, iodine, bromine, and sugars. (10)
There has been little scientific research on the health benefits of slippery elm, but its main purposes in alternative medicine are to provide throat health and upper respiratory support. This can be especially useful during seasonal changes when one would want to promote digestive health. Alternative practitioners also use slippery elm to support the skin’s ability to heal wounds. (11)
Slippery Elm Availability
- Liquid Extract
According to one of Natural Healthy Concepts’ slippery elm products, when it is used as a powder, it can be steeped or blended into water and served as a hot tea to help coat and soothe an irritated throat. To make a slippery elm tea, boil 1 pint of water and add 1 oz. of slippery elm powder. Stir, and drink 6 oz. up to four times a day. Slippery elm bark powder may also be taken with a blend of other ingredients as an herbal tea, such as elder berry, licorice root, Echinacea, and eucalyptus, to support the health of the immune and respiratory systems. Sweeten the tea with an organic natural sweetener such as stevia. (12, 13) Slippery elm may also be taken as a throat lozenge to help soothe the throat and restore a hoarse voice without the use of menthol. (14)
Also try slippery elm in tablets, capsules, or as a powder to support digestive system function. Stir 1 teaspoon of slippery elm powder into 1 cup of water and simmer for several minutes. Let cool. Add honey and sip or gargle several times a day. You may also take 1 mL (about 40 drops) of slippery elm liquid herbal extract up to three times daily in plenty of warm water to support digestion and provide comfort when swallowing. (15) In addition, slippery elm powder or supplements may be used in ointments or poultices to support wound care and healthy-looking skin. (16)
While it is always best to consult with your healthcare professional and follow the dosage directions on the nutritional label of the product you are using, the following dosages have been used for slippery elm. (17)
- Capsules or tablets: Take 800–1,000 mg of dried inner bark powder 3 to 4 times per day
- Tea: Boil up to 2 grams of dried inner bark powder in 200 ml of water for 15 minutes and drink 3 to 4 cups per day
- Tincture: Use 5 mL up to 3 times per day
- Sore throat and cough lozenges: Take 1 lozenge every 2 hours for no more than 2 days
Slippery Elm Uses
In alternative medicine, various forms of slippery elm are used by herbalists for the following conditions, although there is little scientific evidence at this time to support most of these claims. (18)
- Sore Throat
- Crohn's Disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Bladder or Urinary Tract Infection
- Excess Stomach Acid
- Wound Healing
Slippery elm may also be eaten as a food. According to Botanical.com, “Slippery Elm Food is generally made by mixing a teaspoonful of the powder into a thin and perfectly smooth paste with cold water and then pouring on a pint of boiling water, steadily stirring meanwhile. It can, if desired, be flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg or lemon rind.” (19)
Brief History of Slippery Elm
Slippery elm has a long history of use in herbal medicine for gastrointestinal and bronchial health support. The mucilage of the inner tree bark becomes gelatinous when mixed with water and has a texture and a taste similar to oatmeal. Native Americans and early North American settlers ate the porridge-like mixture of water and slippery elm inner bark as a survival food due to its high content of carbohydrates and antioxidants. (20)
For non-medicinal purposes, the Meskwaki used slippery elm bark as building material for houses and for roofs. The Menomini used it to make fiber bags and storage baskets. The Dakota, Omaha-Ponca, Winnebago, and Pawnee used the fiber of slippery elm’s inner bark to craft ropes and cords. Other Native Americans also wrapped the bark around meat to keep it from going bad. (21)
For medicinal purposes, “Native Americans used slippery elm in healing salves for wounds, boils, ulcers, burns, and skin inflammation. It was also taken orally to relieve coughs, sore throats, diarrhea, and stomach problems.” (22) More specifically, the Iroquois blended slippery elm inner bark with other herbs to support swollen glands and as an eyewash to support sore eyes. The Ojibwe used it to soothe sore throats, while the Dakota, Omaha-Ponca, and other Native American tribes boiled and drank slippery elm inner bark as a laxative. Meskwaki women drank it in a tea to support childbirth, and the Menomini and Meskwaki used it in a poultice to heal sores. (23) Later, American soldiers used slippery elm bark to heal gunshot wounds during the American Revolution. (24)
Various wildlife also revere slippery elm. In nature, birds use slippery elm foliage when building their nests, and some songbirds, game birds, and squirrels forage on its seeds and buds. (25) But when it comes to potential health benefits of slippery elm for human consumption or topical use, there are many different reasons to try this plant.
Potential Health Benefits of Slippery Elm
Slippery Elm May Support
- Throat health and upper respiratory system function especially during seasonal changes
- Digestive health
- Skin health and wound healing (26)
Try Slippery Elm for Throat Health Support
Slippery elm bark produces a soothing film that, when ingested, may help coat the throat and temporarily ease symptoms of respiratory or bronchial irritation, such as internal issues, shortness of breath, coughing, or chest discomfort. The mucilage in slippery elm bark is also packed with antioxidants making it potentially helpful for individuals struggling with seasonal afflictions. (27) As the mucilage coats the throat it acts as an antitussive, which means it may support against bronchial or upper respiratory problems. That’s one reason why it is a popular ingredient in throat lozenges and cough drops. To back up this claim, one study found that slippery elm has a positive soothing effect on people with laryngitis or throat inflammation, but more research is needed. (28)
Try Slippery Elm for Digestive Health Support
Similarly, slippery elm supports the gastrointestinal system by creating a film over the mucus membranes of the digestive tract. Working symbiotically with its herbal-based antioxidants the mucilage acts to support a healthy internal response, which may temporarily ease discomfort associated with chronic digestive issues.
In a clinical study on patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a mixture of dried, powdered slippery elm bark, bilberry fruit, agrimony aerial parts, and cinnamon quills was given orally and found to have a small effect on stimulating bowel movement frequency. A second formula of a mixture of dried powdered slippery elm bark, lactulose, oat bran, and licorice root was given orally to other patients. It was found to significantly improve both bowel habit and IBS symptoms in patients with constipation-predominant IBS. Both formulas were well-tolerated, but further research is warranted. (29)
You may also try drinking a slippery elm tea to support natural detoxification processes in the body. A detox tea may help eliminate excess waste and toxins to promote the healthy functioning of the liver, kidneys, and colon.
Try Slippery Elm for Skin Health Support
It is also believed that slippery elm powder can be mixed with water and used on wounds or on dry skin to help support healing. This may be attributed in part to the natural antioxidants present in slippery elm’s inner bark, which help protect the body against oxidative damage from free radicals caused by chronic stress, fatigue, environmental pollution, toxins, sun exposure, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, poor diet, or the aging process. (30)
How to Buy Slippery Elm
Whatever your reasons may be for wanting to try slippery elm, natural health products containing this ingredient may be found in health stores and online. In fact, shopping for slippery elm is as easy as browsing the Natural Healthy Concepts website! (31)
Natural Healthy Concepts offers natural and organic products that meet high standards for ingredients and manufacturing, so you don’t have to worry about quality! Try slippery elm supplements in tablets, capsules, liquid extracts, or powders and find out if it slippery elm makes a difference to your health.
Do not take slippery elm at the same time as other medications, as it may interfere with absorption. Also, do not exceed the recommended dose. Pregnant women should never use slippery elm, because it may induce a miscarriage. Always consult with your healthcare provider first before adding a supplement such as slippery elm to your health regimen. (32)