Do you struggle with constipation, diarrhea or other digestive issues? If so, you must try slippery elm.
Slippery elm, also known as red elm, has been used as an herbal remedy in North America since the 19th century because it’s been shown to treat a number of digestive issues, including relieving constipation. What makes it so great? It contains mucilage, a substance that becomes a slick gel when mixed with water. This mucilage coats and soothes the mouth, throat, stomach and intestines, making it ideal for sore throat, cough, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis and diarrhea. Plus, it’s been even used to treat breast cancer!
These are just some of the slippery elm benefits. What else can this amazing tree bark do? Let’s take a look.
Slippery Elm Benefits
In addition to mucilage, slippery elm contains antioxidants, making it a great remedy for wounds, burns, boils, psoriasis and other external skin conditions. Like high-antioxidant foods, slippery elm can help relieve inflammatory bowel conditions, making it a great addition to any IBS diet.
It also may help protect against ulcers and excess acidity in the body because it causes reflux stimulation of nerve endings in the gastrointestinal tract, and that reaction leads to increased mucus secretion. Not only does this help most people, but it can actually give much relief to your dog too! (1)
1. Improves Constipation, Bloating, Diarrhea and Issues with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Slippery elm seems to improve symptoms of constipation and IBS. In one study, formula one was created consisting of a mixture of dried, powdered bilberry fruit, powdered slippery elm bark, agrimony aerial parts and cinnamon quills. Formula two was created consisting of a mixture of dried powdered slippery elm bark, lactulose, oat bran and licorice root. The aim of each formula was to normalize stool frequency and stool consistency.
Formula one was associated with a small but significant increase in bowel movement frequency. Subjects also experienced reductions in straining, abdominal pain, bloated stomach and global IBS symptoms during the treatment phase of the trial. Subjects who took formula two experienced a 20 percent increase in bowel movement frequency and significant reductions in straining, abdominal pain, bloating and global IBS symptom severity, as well as improvements in stool consistency. (2) Ultimately, both formulas showed improvements.
2. Aids in Weight Loss
Since slippery elm has the ability to improve digestion, this process can aid in weight loss. A study performed at New York Chiropractic College used normal participants from the faculty, staff, students and community members to participate in a 21-day weight loss program. All participants received freshly prepared, mostly vegan meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner. They included 1,200 to 1,400 daily calories for the women and 1,600 to 1,800 daily calories for the men.
Nutritional supplements containing digestive enzymes that were intended to facilitate digestion, reduce cholesterol levels, increase metabolic rate and mediate inflammatory processes were consumed 30 minutes before each meal. The regimented supplementation program included daily supplementation with a one green drink that contained alfalfa, wheat grass, apple cider vinegar and fulvic acid throughout the study period. A cleanse supplementation containing slippery elm, magnesium, chia seeds, flaxseed, lemon, camu camu, cat’s claw, bentonite clay, turmeric, pau d’arco, chanca piedra, stevia, zeolite clay, garlic, ginger, peppermint, aloe, citrus bioflavonoids and fulvic acid was added before each meal during week two.
During week three, the cleanse supplementation was replaced with prebiotic and probiotic supplementation. In addition to detecting clinically meaningful reductions in weight, subjects were also seen as having low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. (4)
3. Lowers Stress and Anxiety
Many plants contain phenolics, which are aromatic benzene ring compounds that produce one or more hydroxyl groups, mainly for protection against stress. This makes slippery elm a great stress reliever.
A study conducted by the Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology in India using analytical methods to undertake detailed phytonutrient analyses of eight contributing herbs included slippery elm, burdock, sheep sorrel, Turkish rhubarb, watercress, red clover, blessed thistle and kelp. Ultimately, the study indicated that contributing herbs predominantly contain phenolics that may make them great options for relieving stress and anxiety. (5)
4. May Help Prevent Breast Cancer
Since breast cancer is a major cause of morbidity, mortality and medical expenditures among women, slippery elm has become a go-to for many women battling it. It was first promoted as an option to treat breast cancer, including DCIS, in the 1920s. It’s the inner bark of slippery elm, Ulmus fulva or U. rubra, that has become one of the more popular herbal remedies for breast cancer treatment, secondary prevention, improving quality of life and controlling negative side effects of conventional breast cancer treatment.
Though more studies need to be conducted, slippery elm, when combined with certain herbs such as burdock root, Indian rhubard and sheep sorrel, may improve conditions for women with breast cancer and improve depression, anxiety and fatigue. Because it has immune-boosting benefits and anti-inflammatory effects, it may help relieve pain associated with breast cancer, and it’s most common to find slippery elm in herbal tea mixtures and herbal dietary supplements. (6, 7)
5. Reduces Severity of Symptoms of Psoriasis
Slippery elm has been shown to help patients with psoriasis, which is a big deal given that there is no cure for psoriasis. Five case studies were evaluated of patients with psoriasis following a specific dietary regimen. Evaluation consisted of a study group of five patients, both men and women between the ages of 40–68, diagnosed with chronic plaque psoriasis.
The subjects were asked to follow a dietary protocol that included a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, small amounts of protein from fish and fowl, fiber supplements, olive oil, and avoidance of red meat, processed foods and refined carbohydrates. They were also asked to consume saffron tea and slippery elm bark water daily. The five psoriasis cases, ranging from mild to severe at the study onset, improved on all measured outcomes over a six-month period, proving slippery elm makes a great addition to any psoriasis diet treatment. (8)
History and Origin of Slippery Elm
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 flu and cold-like 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 as a slippery elm tea and in a poultice to heal sores on the body. It was believed to make childbirth easier when consuming as a tea and was used to treat sore throats. The versatility even shines through by making an excellent natural laxative by boiling the fresh inner bark.
Medicinal purposes were not the only uses of this miracle tree either. The bark supplied material for the sides of winter houses and roofs of the Meskwaki. The inner bark was used by many tribes by boiling the bark to make fiber bags, large storage baskets, ropes and cords, making slippery elm one of the most versatile trees on the planet.
Slippery elm is a medium-sized tree native to North America. It can reach well over 50 feet in height and is topped by spreading branches that form an open crown. The branches are typically red, brown or orange and grow downward to include stalkless flowers arranged in dense clusters. The plant’s leaves are long and green, and they darken in color during the fall.
The bark has deep fissures, a gummy texture, and a slight but distinct odor. It’s the inner bark that’s key. This bark is dried and powdered to be used for medicinal purposes and typically found as tablets and capsules, slippery elm lozenges, slippery elm powder for making teas or extracts, and coarsely powdered bark for poultices.
Slippery elm, identified by its “slippery” inner bark, may live to be 200 years old. Sometimes called red elm, gray elm or soft elm, this tree grows best on moist, rich soils of lower slopes and flood plains, although it may also grow on dry hillsides with limestone soils. It’s abundant and associated with many other hardwood trees but is not an important lumber tree. HThe hard, strong wood is considered inferior to the American elm even though they’re often mixed and sold together as soft elm.
Slippery elm extends from southwestern Maine west to New York, extreme southern Quebec, southern Ontario, northern Michigan, central Minnesota, and eastern North Dakota; south to eastern South Dakota, central Nebraska, southwestern Oklahoma, and central Texas; then east to northwestern Florida and Georgia. Slippery elm is uncommon in the range lying south to Kentucky but is most abundant in the southern part of the lake states and in the corn belt of the Midwest. (9, 10)
How to Use and Where to Find Slippery Elm
Slippery elm can typically be found at your local health food store in numerous forms, including tea, lozenges, capsules and tablets, poultice, and extract. Just ask the nutritionist for help finding what works for you.
Here are some of the most common uses and forms:
- Diarrhea (in humans and pets): treatment by ingestion of capsules, tablets, tea, tincture and extracts
- Cough (humans and cats): treatment by lozenges, tea, tincture, and extracts
- Acid reflux: treatment by tea, and extracts
- Constipation (pets, especially cats): treatment by powder or extract added to food
- External skin conditions (humans and pets): treatment by shampoo or topical cream infused with extract.
Slippery Elm Recipes
There are many ways you can incorporate slippery elm into your diet. Here are a few recipes to try:
Slippery Elm Tea
- 1 tablespoon slippery elm bark powder
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 teaspoon local honey (optional)
- 3 ounces almond or coconut milk
- 1/2 teaspoon of cacao
- Sprinkle of cinnamon
- Add boiling water to cup.
- Add the slippery elm bark powder and stir well.
- Then add the honey, almond or coconut milk.
- Stir again.
- Top of with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Here are a couple others to try:
Risks and Precautions of Slippery Elm
Slippery elm should only be given to children under the supervision of a knowledgeable practitioner. Dosage is usually dependent on weight. Herbal medicines can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements or medications. Therefore, use caution and check with your health care provider, especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or using other medications.
Though slippery elm has no serious side effects, because it coats the digestive tract, it may slow down the absorption of other drugs or herbs. It may be best to take slippery elm two hours before or after other herbs or medications you may be taking.
Slippery Elm Takeaways
- It contains mucilage, a substance that becomes a slick gel when mixed with water. This mucilage coats and soothes the mouth, throat, stomach and intestines, making it ideal for sore throat, cough, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis and diarrhea.
- Slippery elm helps improve constipation, bloating, diarrhea and IBS symptoms; aids in weight loss; reduces stress and anxiety; may help prevent and treat breast cancer; and reduces the severity of symptoms of psoriasis.
- It’s even been used to heal wounds, relieve the flu or common cold, treat infected and swollen glands, wash and heal sore eyes, heal sores, make childbirth easier, and treat sore sore throat and coughs. It’s also been used to make siding and roofs for houses, fiber bags, large storage baskets, ropes, and cords.
- The inner bark is where most of the health benefits reside. This bark is dried and powdered to be used for medicinal purposes and typically found as tablets and capsules, slippery elm lozenges, slippery elm powder for making teas or extracts, and coarsely powdered bark for poultices.