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Slippery Elm

Botanical names: Ulmus rubra, Ulmus fulva

Photo

© Steven Foster

Parts used and where grown

The slippery elm tree is native to North America, where it still grows primarily. The inner bark of the tree is the main part used for medicinal preparations.

Slippery elm has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
1Star

Common cold/sore throat

Cough

Crohn’s disease

Gastritis

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Heartburn (symptom relief)

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)

Native Americans found innumerable medicinal and other uses for this tree. Canoes, baskets, and other household goods were made from the tree and its bark. Slippery elm was also used internally for conditions such as sore throats and diarrhea.1 As a poultice, it was considered a remedy for many inflammatory skin conditions.

Active constituents

The mucilage of slippery elm, found in the inner bark, gives it the soothing effect for which it is known.2 In people with heartburn, the mucilage appears to act as a barrier against the damaging effects of acid on the esophagus. It may also have an anti-inflammatory effect locally in the stomach and intestines. This soothing effect may also extend to the throat. Clinical research, verifying these effects in humans has not been conducted.

How much is usually taken?

The dried inner bark in capsules or tablets, 800–1,000 mg three to four time per day, may be used. A tea can also be made by boiling 1/2–2 grams of the bark in 200 ml of water for ten to fifteen minutes, then cooled before drinking. Three to four cups a day can be used.3 Tincture, 5 ml three times per day, can be taken as well. Slippery elm is also an ingredient of some sore throat and cough lozenges.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

Slippery elm is quite safe. There are no known reasons to avoid its use during pregnancy or breast feeding. However, because it is so mucilaginous, it may interfere with the absorption of medicine taken at the same time.

At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with slippery elm.

References:

1. Duke JA. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985, 495–6.

2. Wren RC, Williamson EM, Evans FJ. Potter’s New Cyclopedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. Essex, UK: CW Daniel Company, 1988, 252.

3. Foster S. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1996, 88–9.

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