Slippery Elm. Have you heard of it? If you are like me, you may have seen slippery elm listed as an ingredient in some of your digestive supplements or perhaps in an herbal tea. I never really gave it much thought though, that is until this past year.
My mom has battled GERD for several years now. Her symptoms were sporadic in that they would come and go, or can range from mild to severe. Sometimes they would get so bad that she would end up in the emergency room. Every doctor she saw had one thing to offer her...prescription medication. Desperate, she took the medication but never for any length of time due to the unwanted side effects as well as just knowing how bad they were for her.
She changed her diet drastically, cutting out anything that could potentially be causing her symptoms. That led to an unwanted weight loss because she just wasn't getting nourished how her body needed. But she was afraid to eat in fear of what the result may be. I suggested she start her day by diluting some apple cider vinegar in some water. At first, we thought that did the trick. But the relief didn't last. While searching for another natural approach, she came across the herbal remedy known as slippery elm. She called me instantly to get my take on it. As I said, I had heard of it, but didn't have much knowledge on it. So you know what that means...it was time to get educated!
The roots of slippery elm go way back. The tree slippery elm, medically known as Ulmus fulva, has been around since the 19th century and was used by Native Americans in healing salves for various types of wounds, as well as taken orally for the relief of cold and flu symptoms. The Iroquois scraped the bark of the tree to treat infected and swollen glands and used the inner bark as an eyewash to treat sore eyes. Some tribes used the inner bark to make tea which was used to treat sore throats. The tea also made childbirth easier. They would make a poultice to treat sores on their body as well. Needless to say, they found many used for this healing bark.
Upon reading about slippery elm, I was immediately blown away and intrigued. Slippery elm contains mucilage. This mucilage becomes a slick gel when mixed with water, milk, juice, or tea. When ingested, it coats the mouth, throat, intestines, and stomach. Slippery elm serves as an internal bandage for inflammation or ulcerations anywhere along the digestive tract. This provides relief to sore throats, coughs, GERD, Crohn's disease, diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and diarrhea. It is encouraged to take slippery elm frequently when starting the healing process. Three times a day is acceptable. Then you can taper down to a maintenance level once the herb has performed its healing.
Slippery elm also contains valuable antioxidants which makes it an ideal substance for treating burns, wounds, boils, psoriasis, and other skin ailments. Additionally, it contains a substance known as phenolics. Phenolics are aromatic benzene ring compounds that produce hydroxyl groups. These groups protect against stress making slippery elm an excellent stress reliever. Slippery elm is also thought to potentially help fight cancer due to its anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants.
In addition to it's healing and soothing properties, it also contains as much nutrition as a bowl of oatmeal. You can create some wholesome and sustaining foods with it which can be great for someone with health issues who may be struggling with eating and maintaining their nutrition. 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. Flavor with cinnamon or nutmeg. This makes an excellent drink in cases of irritation of the mucous membrane of the stomach and intestines. Drink some at night as well for a restful night sleep. Fantastic results can come from incorporating slippery elm into your food three times a day. Add it into some oatmeal, or even a smoothie. Stomach issues can resolve quickly, bronchitis and coughs are greatly relieved, and it brings healing to the lungs,
As I mentioned before, Indians have long used the inner bark to prepare a healing salve, and in herbal medicine, slippery elm bark powder is considered one of the best possible poultices for wounds, boils, ulcers, burns and all inflamed surfaces, soothing, healing and reducing pain and inflammation. To make this healing salve, mix the powder with hot water to form the required consistency, spread smoothly upon soft cotton cloth and apply over the parts affected. It is extremely effective in treating cases of abscesses, wounds, congestion, eruptions, swollen glands, etc. In simple inflammation, it may be applied directly over the part affected. For abscesses and old wounds, it should be placed between cloths. If applied to parts of the body where there is hair, the face of the poultice should be smeared with olive oil before applying.
Slippery elm is available in tablets and capsules, lozenges, finely powdered bark for teas, extracts and mucilaginous drinks, and coarsely powdered bark for poultices. There are several brands to choose from when it comes to slippery elm. I buy Mountain Rose Herbs products because they are a company I buy from already and trust. The herb is becoming increasingly endangered so try to choose slippery elm bark from trees that have been sustainably harvested. Feel free to do your own research though and choose a product that is right for you. Just avoid any additives in the powder or supplements you decide on. A question you may have is, "When is the best time to take slippery elm?" This is something that varies from person to person. So it may be a trial and error situation for you. But from the information I have gathered, it is suggested to take the herb before eating if you are dealing with lower digestive symptoms, like diarrhea or stomach aches. If your symptoms involve your upper half (GERD, reflux, etc.), take it after eating. Here are some recommended dosages for adults using slippery elm:
- Tea: Pour 2 cups boiling water over 4 g (roughly 2 tablespoons) of powdered bark, then steep for 3 to 5 minutes. Drink 3 times per day.
- Tincture: 5 mL 3 times per day. Note: Contains alcohol.
- Capsules: 400 to 500 mg, 3 to 4 times daily for 4 to 8 weeks. Take with a full glass of water.
- Lozenges: Follow dosing instructions on label.
- External application: Mix coarse powdered bark with boiling water to make a poultice; cool and apply to affected area. Never apply slippery elm directly on an open wound. Put the poultice between two cloths.
As for children, always talk to your doctor first about dosing recommendations. Slippery elm has no serious side effects. However, when using it with other herbs, supplements, or medication, there is some potential for side effects. So be sure to speak with your doctor if you are concerned about any interactions. Because it coats the digestive system, it can slow down the absorption rate. Therefore, it can affect the absorption of other herbs and drugs. For this reason, take your other herbs, supplements, or medications one hour prior to taking slippery elm, or two hours after taking slippery elm. There is no clear evidence if taking slippery elm while pregnant is safe. So it's suggested you avoid it during pregnancy, unless your doctor advises you otherwise.
Hopefully this gives you a clearer picture of just how healing this bark can be. If you are curious about my mom and her progress, I am happy to report that she has been using slippery elm successfully for a couple of months now. Her symptoms are completely gone! She feels so much better taking an herbal remedy rather than prescriptions drugs. Through her struggles and success story, we have both wondered why doctors don't tell their patients about slippery elm. I guess it is another example of how important it is to be your own health advocate. My mom is eager to share this wonderful remedy with anyone in need of digestive healing. Hopefully others who are also searching for some relief will find positive benefits to taking slippery elm. Here is a simple recipe for slippery elm tea (also known as gruel). It only takes about 5 minutes to make, and this soothing tea taste delicious!
Slippery Elm Tea
- 1 tablespoon slippery elm bark powder
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 teaspoon local honey or maple syrup (optional)
- 3 ounces almond or coconut milk
- 1/2 teaspoon of raw cacao powder (optional)
- Sprinkle of cinnamon
Pour boiling water into a cup. Add the slippery elm bark powder and mix well. Let the tea sit for a couple of minutes to thicken up. Then add one teaspoon of maple syrup or local honey and raw cacao. Now pour in the almond or coconut milk and stir. Sprinkle some cinnamon on top and enjoy!
*Note- Some people enjoy slippery elm in plain hot water too. So if you want to forego all of the ingredients listed above and just use water and slippery elm, that is totally acceptable.