Forests are filled with an amazing variety of plants. Leaves, moss, mushrooms…it would be hard to imagine the woods without them. Softwoods like pine, and hardwoods like oak and birch, all work together to provide a fruitful and well-maintained ecosystem.
One such hardwood is the slippery elm tree – also known as the Indian elm, red elm, moose elm, or sweet elm. With its tall trunk and ribbed leaves, it must be a favorite among those who share its space.
If you look back into the history of many Native American tribes, you’ll notice that they believed that everything had a purpose. They also believed that nothing should go to waste and that every part of a plant or animal should be put to good use.
This brings us to the idea of using the bark of the slippery elm tree for medicine. Is it possible? Sure is, and in this article, we’ll tell you how it’s been used for centuries already!
What is Slippery Elm?
This tree, with the scientific name Ulmus rubra, is typically found in the northern parts of the US like North Dakota, Maine, or Quebec. But this elm doesn’t like to limit itself, so it can also be found in Texas and Florida.
The inner bark of the slippery elm has been used for hundreds of years as medicine. It gets its name because of the slippery texture the bark has once it's wet, either by chewing on it or by mixing it with water (1). The inside of the bark can also be dried and ground into a powder, which can then be taken directly or in capsules.
One of its defining features is that it contains properties called mucilage, which is basically a gel-like substance. With the added benefit of antioxidants and other nutrients, this helps calm down and heal inflamed or irritated tissue within the body.
Because of its incredible therapeutic abilities, some people use slippery elm to help with issues like:
Having a sore throat is typically an indication that something else is going on. Your body is either fighting off an infection, or there’s something that is irritating the tissue, causing inflammation.
Whatever the case may be, providing relief is just what slippery elm will do. You’ll often find this in a lot of lozenges because of the way it coats your throat.
If the sphincter on the lower end of your esophagus doesn’t close all the way, you may get a bit of stomach acid backsplash whenever you lie down or bend over. Not only is this unpleasant, but it can also damage the lining of your esophagus, throat, and tooth enamel.
If your current over-the-counter protocol isn’t doing the trick, slippery elm can help. If using a powder, mix a rounded tablespoon with tea or water and drink. If you don’t like the taste, sugar or honey can make it more palatable.
If you’re going the capsule route, you can safely take up to 1500mg per day (2), divided up throughout the day.
Colon health is crucial for overall health. If you’re feeling backed up, inflamed, or irregular intestine activity may be the culprit. Slippery elm contains fatty acids like butyric acid that help support the cellular structure of the colon. And as Dr. Cochran (4) puts it, “Butyric acid is fuel for the cells of the large intestine making it an essential factor in creating healthy cells of the colon.”
Supporting your colon and addressing any inflammation can help keep you regular and avoid hours in the bathroom trying to get things moving.
Having the runs is not fun. Often when this happens, your body is trying to flush out toxins. Other times, there is a breach in the intestinal wall that is letting things through that shouldn’t be getting through (think “leaky gut”). Because slippery elm has high insoluble fiber content, it can help bulk things up, providing a more “firmer” stool.
Not only can slippery elm be taken internally, but you can also apply it as a poultice to external skin irritations, rashes, or conditions. In the 19th century, doctors would often use it to help soothe issues like skin ulcers, burns, herpes, and in some cases even leprosy (4).
So it helps in a lot of ways, but how does it work exactly?
How It Works
How can taking something that goes into your stomach have an effect on something such as your lungs? When humans develop in the womb, every organ starts off as one long tube. As you grow, the organs begin to separate and become more distinguished. Once everything is formed, there is still a universal connection through the nervous system.
That, along with how your circulatory system works, is how taking something that passes through your stomach can also benefit your lungs, skin, urinary tract, etc.
Pretty cool, huh?
For those who love natural beauty products, slippery elm can make a great hair detangler and conditioner (5)! Amino acids and polyphenols help to add strength and a vibrant look to dull or damaged hair.
Did you know you can use slippery elm to help your canine companion, too? If they suffer from coughing, upset stomach or diarrhea (3), ask your veterinarian about giving it a try. If they give the ok, mix a small amount of powder into water until it forms a gel-like consistency. You can mix it in with their food, or let them lap it up beforehand.
The good news is, there aren’t many risks to taking slippery elm. It is known to coat your digestive tract, so this may slow down the absorption of any medication or nutrients you might also be taking. A good rule of thumb would be to give yourself a 2-hour window either before or after taking other medications or supplements.
If applied topically, watch out for any allergic reactions such as blisters, itching, burning, or a rash.
Note: If you are currently pregnant or breastfeeding, talk with your doctor before taking this as a supplement.
Slippery elm has been used for hundreds of years to help soothe sore throats, stomach upset, and skin issues. The medicinal properties are found in the inner bark of the tree, which is ground up and taken as either powder or capsules.
The benefits have a whole-body effect, on the inside and out. From soothing internal organs to adding life back into hair, slippery elm offers an abundance of value to your health.
Have you tried slippery elm? Let us know in the comments below!