What is Slippery Elm?
Slippery Elm is botanically known as Ulmus Fulva and is part of the vast Elm species. The herb is also known by the following other names – Ulmus Rubra, Sweet Elm, Red Elm, Gray Elm, Soft Elm, Orme, Olmo Americano, Indian Elm etc.
The herbal tree is deciduous in nature and is found predominantly in the North American region including North Dakota, Maine, Florida and Texas. As an herbal tree, Slippery Elm is medium sized with large green colored leaves, and can grow up to a height of 65 feet. The branches of Slippery Elm have a distinct odor and are reddish orange & brown in color.
Only the inner bark of the herbal tree is used in traditional medicine. The herbal extracts derived from the bark can be ingested as well as applied topically.
How Does it Work?
Slippery Elm is popular for the following medicinal properties – demulcent, expectorant, emollient, astringent, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. The inner bark of the tree contains the following compounds – mucilage, steroids such as beta-sitosterol and campesterol, carbohydrates, tannins, flavonoids, phytosterols and sesquiterpenes.
The herbal extract derived from Slippery Elm is also rich in Vitamin E. The mucilage present in the herb is of high nutritional value and also acts as an excellent demulcent and emollient. In short, it means that the herb can have the following medicinal effects – soothing, buffering and poison drawing.
Health Benefits of Slippery Elm
The inner bark of Slippery Elm is used for the following health related benefits:
For the Skin
The herbal tree is extensively used by the North American natives for treating skin related ailments such as – wounds, burns, boils, ulcers, cold sores, abscesses, sun burns and any other type of skin inflammatory conditions. For treating skin related conditions, a poultice containing the mucilage of the herb can be applied to the skin.
It is said that Slippery Elm can soften the skin and draw out poisonous & irritation causing substances from the affected portion. However, there are no reliable scientific studies to back these claims.
For Sore Throat & Cough
This perhaps is the most popular herbal remedy associated with Slippery Elm. Slippery Elm when taken orally can soothe sore throat issues and can also reduce instances of cough. It is said that the herb works by forming a thin film over the affected area and reduces the irritation.
In short, when the herb is ingested the mucilage in it starts acting as a demulcent and reduces irritation of the throat & the esophagus. This process also helps in repressing the cough reflex of the body.
To solve problems of sore throat, many recommend making an herbal tea using 200 mg of the herb and taking it three times in a day. However, many also believe that the herb is more beneficial when it is combined with commercial lozenges for treating cough and sore throat problems.
For The Digestive Process
Another related herbal remedy of Slippery Elm is in treating digestion related disorders. As explained above, the mucilage found in the herb also coats the digestive tract and the gastrointestinal tract to prevent inflammation.
This way, Slippery Elm helps in treating the following digestion related disorders such as – colic, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, gastrointestinal tract inflammation, duodenal ulcers, diarrhea and even constipation. According to a study conducted by the University of Maryland Medical Center, Slippery elm has anti-oxidant properties that help in treating Crohn’s disease.
According to some others, Slippery Elm also helps in reducing the acidity levels in the stomach. This happens because the herb can lead to reflux stimulation of the nerve endings that increase the amount of mucus secreted in the GI tract. The excess mucus production in the body leads to low acidity levels and less ulcer formation in the digestive system.
Slippery Elm is also thought to be effective against bladder and urinary tract infections. It also can treat syphilis and herpes. Traditionally, the herb was used to expel tapeworms from the body.
The herb was also used popularly by Native American tribal members as a lubricant to help during labor and childbirth.
Some say that Slippery Elm can be used to stimulate the adrenal glands. The herb is also associated with the following conditions – asthma, psoriasis, gastroesophogeal reflux disease and hemorrhoids.
In case of herbal tea made from Slippery Elm, the recommended dosage level would be taking a cup of the tea three times per day. To make tea using the herb, add a teaspoon of the powdered herb in a cup of boiling water and steep for five minutes.
Tinctures containing the herb may contain traces of alcohol and must be taken at a dose of 5 mL three times per day. In case of capsules containing the herbal extract one must not take more than 1500 mg per day (500 mg three times per day).
For external application, a poultice containing Slippery Elm extract can be made by first mixing boiling water with coarse powdered herbal extract and then allowing it to cool for some time. Also, the herbal extract must never be applied directly to an open wound.
Side Effects, Overdose & Other Considerations
Slippery Elm when taken at the right dosage level is safe and non toxic. However, allergic skin rashes have been noticed in some rare cases. Also, the herb may cause miscarriage in pregnant women when it is inserted into the cervix.
However, there is no scientific evidence that the herb may be safe in pregnant women when it is taken by mouth. Also, do not take Slippery Elm extract during breastfeeding period without consulting your physician.
Slippery Elm is available in the following forms in the herbal market – capsules, tablet, powder, tea and coarsely powdered form for making poultices. The herb works by forming a gel like substance when it comes in contact with water inside our body. The mucilage present in Slippery Elm forms a protective layer covering the esophagus as well as the digestive tract. As an herb, Slippery Elm is considered relatively safe and non-toxic.
Most medications that are taken by mouth may get less effective as the mucilage coating of the herb slows down the absorption of the drug by the body. It is recommended that Slippery Elm must be orally taken atleast an hour after taking other forms of drugs.