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Slippery Elm

What is slippery elm?

Slippery elm is a small-to medium-sized tree native to North America. It can reach a height of more than 65 feet, with reddish-brown branches that grow downward and long, green leaves that darken in color.

The tree's outer bark has a gummy feel and a slight (but distinctive) odor. The inner bark contains a form of mucilage composed of various minerals and compounds, which gives the tree its healing properties.

Why do we need slippery elm? What is it used for?

Mucilage contained in the inner bark of slippery elm contains hexoses, pentoses, methylpentoses, polyuronides and hexosans. It also contains tannins, starch, minerals, phytoesterols, sesquiterpenes, calcium oxalate and cholesterol.

Traditionally, slippery elm has been used as a skin softener and cough medicine. It is used externally to treat wounds, burns and other skin conditions, as well as vaginitis and hemorrhoids. Powdered forms can be taken internally for gastritis, duodenal ulcers, colitis, diarrhea, and oral inflammations.

Scientific studies have found slippery elm to be effective in treating sore throats and coughs – so much so, in fact, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proclaimed slippery elm a safe and effective remedy for soothing throat and respiratory infections.

How much slippery elm should I take?

Two to four capsules (500 milligrams) of powdered slippery elm bark are recommended, depending on the condition. For external conditions, health practitioners recommend coarse powdered bark be mixed with boiling water to use as a poultice. Make sure adequate mucilage is obtained for consistency and viscosity.

What forms of slippery elm are available?

Some stores sell whole pieces of inner bark, usually two to three feet long and 1/8 to 1/16 of an inch in thickness, for commercial preparations. Slippery elm is also available in a finely powdered form for drinks and a coarsely powdered form for poultices.

What can happen if I take too much slippery elm? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

There are no known side-effects or health hazards for slippery elm when it is properly administered in the recommended doses. No adverse interactions with other substances have been reported.

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• Beveridge RJ, Stoddart JP, Szarek WA, Jones JK. Some structural features of the mucilage from the bark of ulmus fulva. Carbohydr Res 1969;9:429-439.
Blakeley T. Slippery elm: comparative study of the effects of plant spacing on plant development and yield. Research Farm Proposal No. 6088. Collaborating Team. The National Center for the Preservation of Medicinal Herbs. Project period 1998-2008. Available at www.ncmph.org/6088.html.
Grieve M. A Modern Herbal, vol. II. New York: Dover, 1971.
Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C. PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics, 1998.
Morton JF. Mucilaginous plants and their uses in medicine. Biol Pharm Bull 1993;16:735-739.


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