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Slippery Elm

Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), known variously as Indian elm, sweet elm, red elm, and moose elm, is a deciduous tree native to North America.

General Use

The dried inner bark of the slippery elm, known as the bast, is a calcium-rich, nutritive substance containing bioflavonoids, a high amount of mucilage, starch, a small quantity of tannins, and vitamin E. Slippery elm in various preparations acts as a demulcent, emollient, expectorant, diuretic, and is a soothing and nutritious tonic benefiting the adrenal glands, the respiratory system and the gastrointestinal tract. The inner bark, taken as an infusion or syrup, has been used to treat sore throat, laryngitis, bronchitis, and stomach or duodenal ulcers. Slippery elm is a healing remedy once widely used to treat consumption, known now as tuberculosis, and typhoid fever. The mucilaginous substance in the inner bark is soothing to irritated tissues in the lungs, intestines, colon and urinary tract, and may be helpful in the treatment of Crohn's disease, an inflammation of the walls of the small intestines and colon. Slippery elm helps to draw out toxins from the body and assists the body in expelling mucus. It is beneficial externally in poultice form. When the inner bark is mixed with water, the soothing and emollient substance can be applied to the skin as a healing salve for numerous skin problems. It can be used for nappy rash, bed sores, abscesses, burns, scalds, infections and boils.

Slippery elm may be combined with such other soothing herbs, such as echinacea, goldenseal, and comfrey, in a salve preparation to soothe and bring healing to inflamed and infected skin. A gruel or paste of slippery elm mixed with water is useful as a nutritious food for invalids who may be unable to keep down regular food. When an infusion of ginseng is used in place of the water, the tonic effect of this herbal food will be enhanced.

Slippery elm has been studied as a possible antioxidant. Antioxidants are compounds that counteract aging and other destructive effects of oxidation in living tissue. One group of Korean researchers found that slippery elm extract inactivates peroxynitrite, an oxidizing compound that causes cell death. British researchers have also studied the antioxidant effects of slippery elm, which they think explains its effectiveness as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).


No known side-effects.


As of 2002, slippery elm has not been reported to interact with any prescription medications. It is best to take slippery elm several hours before or after other herbs or medications because of possible interference with speed of absorption.

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