THE HERBAL CORNER - "Slippery Elm"

SLIPPERY ELM preparations are derived from the ground-up and dried reddish inner bark of a fast-growing tree native to North America. Like its larger cousin American Elm, SLIPPERY ELM grows east of the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada to northern Mexico. Also like American elms, Dutch elm disease has ravaged SLIPPERY ELMs in recent years. The slippery in the name is a clue to its major medicinal use: SLIPPERY ELM swells on contact with water and forms a slimy coating over surfaces. In the throat, for example, SLIPPERY ELM soothes and protects irritated tissues, thus alleviating the pain and discomfort of a sore throat.

Traditional uses
The small-leaved elm that is native to Europe and other elm species have had minor applications in folk healing since the ancient Greeks. It was Native Americans, however, who were responsible for developing many of today's popular uses for SLIPPERY ELM. They mixed it with water and spread the resulting spongy paste over injuries, burns, and minor skin irritations to act as a bandage. Early European settlers called the tree Indian elm and were quick to embrace Indian uses of the herb. SLIPPERY ELM became extremely popular in 18th and 19th century America as a cough and cold remedy. Some people also mixed the ground bark with water or milk to make a nutritious, oatmeal-like food. Folk healers contended that the SLIPPERY ELM gruel was especially helpful to eat while recovering from illness because it is easily assimilated. The herb was used as a digestive tonic and a cure for conditions such as dysentery and acid indigestion. SLIPPERY ELM was also touted as a folk remedy for baldness, broken bones, constipation, syphilis, hemorrhoids, stomach ulcers, and typhoid fever.

Modern uses
A recent survey estimated that, along with psyllium and laxative herbs such as senna and cascara sagrada, SLIPPERY ELM is one of the top-selling herbs in United States commerce as an ingredient in over-the-counter preparations. SLIPPERY ELM is most widely used in lozenges for symptomatic relief of sore throats, coughs, and colds. Other medicinal and food uses of the bark have also survived because of SLIPPERY ELM's proven ability to soothe and protect irritated mucous membranes. As a digestive remedy it may help relieve diarrhea, constipation, gastritis, and Crohn's disease. In the respiratory system, SLIPPERY ELM can benefit dryness of the lungs and bronchitis. It is also still used topically as a skin moisturizer and to help heal minor wounds, poison ivy, and skin irritations. SLIPPERY ELM is one of the herbs included in the traditional cancer treatment known as "Essiac." SLIPPERY ELM may also help prevent or treat stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, and food poisoning.

Recent findings
SLIPPERY ELM has not garnered much attention from scientists in recent years. A group of researchers in Korea, however, continue to investigate a related elm, U. davidiana, native to northern China. In a study published in 1996 they isolated three new sesquiterpene compounds with potential antioxidant properties from the root bark of U. davidiana. In a 1998 study, they reported that a bark compound could play a role in preventing inflammatory diseases.

Do scientists know how it works? Scientists attribute most of SLIPPERY ELM's healing powers to its mucilage content. It is the mucilage in SLIPPERY ELM that allows it to swell in water and then coat tissues and membranes. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acknowledges that this property makes SLIPPERY ELM an "excellent demulcent," or soothing agent. The herb also contains minor amounts of astringent tannins that may improve diarrhea. Its use as a food to promote recovery from illness has some basis due to its content of such nutrients as calcium and potassium.

SLIPPERY ELM is available as a dried powder and in capsules, tablets, lozenges, liquid extracts, and teas. It is sometimes included in formulas for cold and flu, bladder and urinary conditions, diarrhea, and throat. SLIPPERY ELM has been consumed as a food for a long time and seems to be totally non-toxic. The FDA considers it a safe and effective over-the-counter demulcent.

Please note: the information contained herein has been compiled from various sources. The above statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. We make no claims, either expressed or implied, that any treatments mentioned in this newsletter will cure disease, replace prescription medication, or supersede sound medical advice.


The Olive Branch, On the Net since 1996