Slippery Elm

Slippery elm, known by the botanical name Ulmus fulvus, is the smallest of 20 different trees in the elm family. Native to North and Central America, it is also known as Indian Elm, Red Elm and Moose Elm and was considered a valuable medicinal herb by at least a dozen separate Native American tribes. Native Americans shared its use with white settlers when they arrived from Europe who quickly adopted the remedy.

Slippery elm is a nourishing herbal food that can be taken in large quantities, and is completely safe, even for infants and young children. It has been made into a porridge-like gruel and eaten as a food for convalescing patients who need to rebuild health and strength. It is also a mild, nourishing food for infants suffering from diarrhea and failure-to-thriv e. Slippery elm is even credited with saving George Washington’s starving army during their bitter winter in Valley Forge when the men are said to have eaten nothing but the nutritious gruel made from its bark for twelve days straight.

As an herbal remedy, slippery elm was celebrated by noted herbalists Samuel Thompson in the 19th Century and John Christopher in the 20th century for its soothing, softening, protecting and lubricating properties. The light-colored inner bark is high in polysaccharides and mucilage, and also contains starch, tannins, calcium oxalates and vitamin C.

When mixed with water the viscous fiber in slippery elm bark swells to create a bulk laxative effect. It is much gentler in this action than psyllium or bran fibers, making it ideal for people with intestinal inflammation or sensitive bowels. This is why it is a principle ingredient in Jeannie Burgess’ formula Intestinal Soothe and Build, created for problems like Crohn’s, colitis, Celiac’s and intestinal ulceration. It is also a principle ingredient in Everybody’s Fiber, a gentle fiber blend suitable for irritable colons and spastic bowels.

The tannins in slippery elm also make it an effective remedy for diarrhea, particularly in young children. These same tannins also make it useful for reducing leaky gut.

Slippery elm is also helpful for the respiratory tract and throat. Teas or lozenges made from slippery elm have been used to ease sore throats and dry hacking coughs. Slippery elm helps to moisten mucus membranes of the throat and lungs to ease dryness and irritation. The tannins may also help to loosen phlegm and reduce excessive mucus secretions.

Another important use for slippery elm has been as a tissue-healing agent. Slippery elm has been used as a primary ingredient in poultices for burns, skin inflammations, boils and other irritations. Steven’s favorite poultice base is slippery elm, comfrey and plantain. Another poultice blend is PLS II, a formula which NSP originally sold in bulk, but is now available only in capsules. PLS II can be used as a poultice by emptying several capsules into a container and blending the powders with water or aloe vera juice or gel to make a paste. The paste is applied to the injured area and covered with a bandage.

PLS II and slippery elm can also be taken internally to speed repair of broken bones and other injuries. The high calcium content of slippery elm probably contributes to its tissue-healing abilities.

In the 20th century, American elm forests—and supplies of slippery elm bark—were decimated by the arrival from Europe of Dutch Elm disease. Today, most commercially available slippery elm comes from trees grown in Michigan, ideally from trees at least 10 years old.


Selected References

Nutritional Herbology by Mark Pederson

Comprehensive Guide to Nature’s Sunshine Products by Steven Horne