Health benefits of Slippery Elm

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Slippery Elm Quick Facts
Name: Slippery Elm
Scientific Name: Ulmus rubra
Origin Eastern North America, ranging from southeast North Dakota, east to Maine and southern Quebec, south to northernmost Florida, and west to eastern Texas
Colors Green when young turning to reddish-brown as they matures
Shapes Oval winged samara, orbicular to obovate, slightly notched at the top, 12–18 mm (15⁄32–23⁄32 in) long, the single, central seed coated with red-brown hairs
Taste Sweet
Health benefits Aids Weight Loss, Relieves Asthma, Combats Heartburn and GERD, Prevent Breast Cancer, Treats Vaginal Infections, Irritation of the Urinary Tract, Treats Psoriasis, Ulcerative Colitis, Soothing a Cough and Sore Throat, Oral Health, Cancer Treatment, Pain Relief, Skin Care, Digestive Health
Slippery elm scientifically known as Ulmus rubra is actually a species of elm belonging to Ulmaceae (Elm family). The plant is native to eastern North America, ranging from southeast North Dakota, east to Maine and southern Quebec, south to northernmost Florida, and west to eastern Texas, where it thrives in moist uplands, although it will also grow in dry, intermediate soils. Other Popular common names of the plant are Red elm, slippery elm, grey elm, soft elm, moose elm, Indian elm, sweet elm, American elm, ulmi rubrae cortex, ulmaceae, winged elm and ulmus fulva michaux. The tree was first named as part of Ulmus americana in 1753, but identified as a separate species, Ulmus rubra, in 1793 by Pennsylvania botanist Gotthilf Muhlenberg.  Its name refers to the slippery feeling of the inner bark when it is chewed or mixed with water. The inner bark (not the whole bark) has several healing and medicinal properties and is used as medicine.

Plant description

Slippery elm is a medium-sized, deciduous tree that grows about 60 to 70 feet (18-21 m) on average sites and 135 feet (41 m) on the best sites. Trunks are up to 35 inches diameter at breast height. The plant is found growing in rich mesic woodlands, floodplain woodlands, the lower slopes of wooded bluffs, rocky upland woodlands, shaded gravelly seeps, riverbanks, edges of limestone glades, thickets, and disturbed areas along railroads and roadways. The plants prefer wet and fertile soil nearby to water courses, though it can also survive in drier areas. The plant has shallow but wide spreading root. Trunk bark is mostly gray, consisting of narrow flat ridges and shallow furrows; inner bark is more reddish brown, as exposed by some of the furrows. Bark of branches and older twigs are more smooth and gray to reddish brown, while the bark of young twigs is reddish brown and hairy. Branches are ascending to widely spreading, becoming subdivided into numerous twigs. Young twigs are hairy and initially green, turning gray to gray-brown. Buds are up to ¼ inch long, elliptic, hairy at the tip, with hairy, dark brown to blackish scales. Flower buds are larger, round, densely covered in rusty-colored hairs.


Simple, alternate leaves are 4-6 inch long and 2-3 inch wide; they are ovate to slightly obovate and doubly serrate along their margins. It is abruptly tapered to a pointed tip, rounded and asymmetrical at the base, on a short, hairy stalk. Leaf venation is pinnate with a central vein and about 12-15 parallel lateral veins. At least 4 lateral veins on each side of the central vein are forked. The upper leaf surface is dull medium green and rough-textured from stiff minute hairs. The lower leaf surface is whitish green and more or less covered with short pubescence. The white ribs of the veins are very prominent along the lower surface. The petioles are about ¼-½ inch long; light green, and short-pubescent. The leaves are arranged along each twig in two ranks. Edges are double-toothed with roughly half the veins forking towards the tip (easily seen on the underside). The deciduous leaves usually become dull yellow during the fall.


The greenish red flowers of Slippery Elm are unisexual or perfect (usually the latter); they are arranged in dense clusters of 5-20 flowers up to 1 inch across on short pedicels about 1/8 inch (3 mm.) long. Male, female, and perfect flowers have a short tubular calyx with 5-9 oblong lobes. The calyx is green and hairy; its lobes are erect. Male flowers have 5-9 stamens with reddish anthers, while female flowers have a pistil with a pair of stigmata that are plumose and pinkish red; perfect flowers have both stamens and a pistil. The blooming period occurs from early to mid-spring (March to May) before the leaves develop; the flowers are wind-pollinated.


Fertile female or perfect flowers are replaced by samaras about ½-¾ inch across. Individual samaras are ovate to orbicular and flattened, consisting of a central seed body that is surrounded by a wide membranous wing. The membranous wings of the samaras are glabrous, while the central seed bodies are hairy. Each samara has a cleft tip that is only slightly notched. The samaras are initially green turning to tan at maturity; they are distributed by the wind during late spring as the leaves develop.

Health benefits of Slippery Elm

Good diet, a good workout regime, and a healthy outlook towards life-all these combined can help you live a meaningful life. Various herbs help to make you healthier still! Slippery elm too offers a variety of health benefits, including

1. Digestive Health

Slippery elm is quite beneficial for better digestive health. Mucilage found in its bark is ideal for soothing the digestive tract and eliminating inflammation, mostly the type that causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). There is also a significant amount of fibrous tissue found in the bark, which can help to bulk up the stool and eliminate issues like diarrhea. In general, it is a full-service gastrointestinal cleaner and has been used as such for thousands of years. (1)

2. Skin Care

If you have suffered from burns, have noticeable scars, or generally poor skin health, slippery elm can be a wonderful remedy. Antioxidants and unique vitamin mixture of this herbal salve can reduce the appearance of wrinkles, eliminate free radicals from the upper skin layers, and even heal age spots, additionally, giving a youthful look to the skin. Furthermore, it can help protect the skin from infections of various types, acting as the first line of defense for the body.(2)

3. Pain Relief

When the balm or salve of slippery elm is applied to a pulled muscle, bruise, or other painful areas of the body, relief is rapid and effective. Antioxidant and analgesic components of slippery elm can quickly soothe the topical pain. (3)

4. Cancer Treatment

Although this is noticeably a highly controversial application, slippery elm is an important component in Essiac, a common herbal treatment for various types of cancer. While research into the antioxidant effects of slippery elm has been widely conducted, the conclusions are still somewhat uncertain, so this possible health benefit should be considered in combination with medical treatment.(4)

5. Oral Health

Slippery elm can also be used as a salve for oral health. If you feel a tooth infection coming on, or have pain in your gums, you can use some slippery elm to the cap of the tooth and the surrounding gums to prevent infection and relieve pain through the anti-inflammatory properties of the herb.(5)

6. Soothing a Cough and Sore Throat

Slippery elm consists of mucilage, a sticky mixture of sugars that can’t be broken down by the human digestive tract. Mucilage coats the throat, so it’s no surprise that slippery elm is found commercially in many brands of throat lozenges.

Slippery elm is supposed to be an antitussive, meaning it’s great for coughs and for symptoms of other upper respiratory ailments like bronchitis or asthma. Again, there is no research to support or refute these claims. Research examining the bark’s use in people with laryngitis or throat inflammation and voice problems has also shown some potential soothing effects.(6)

7. Ulcerative Colitis

Slippery Elms can be used to obtain relief from the symptoms of Ulcerative colitis. It can also reduce the risk of this disease. Ulcerative colitis is a prolonged condition that occurs due to the inflammation of the inner lining of the intestine. Though the exact cause of this condition is not known, it is supposed to occur due to the interplay of genetic, environmental, and immunological factors.

Slippery Elm can help to reduce the progress of this condition and also prevent its complications such as rectal carcinoma.

8. Treats Psoriasis

Slippery Elm is used to cure psoriasis, a condition where the skin becomes red, itchy and scaly. People experience inflammation in extreme cases. Use this herb in addition to your regular medication for faster relief.

9. Irritation of the Urinary Tract

Slippery elm is occasionally recommended to people who experience unexplained inflammation of the urinary tract, like those with interstitial cystitis. Slippery elm powder is supposed to soothe the lining of the urinary tract. Thus, it might help alleviate the painful irritating symptoms. Again, research is needed to either support or refute these claims.

10. Treats Vaginal Infections

Many women suffer from reoccurring vaginal infections, which are not only painful but are also uncomfortable. Infections in the vaginal area can be cured with the use of inner bark of slippery elm. Warning: Pregnant women should not use this product in any form.

11. Prevent Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a major cause of morbidity, mortality and medical expenditures among women; slippery elm has become a go-to for many women battling it. It was first encouraged as an option to treat breast cancer, including DCIS, in the 1920s. Inner bark of slippery elm, Ulmus fulva or U. rubra, has become one of the more popular herbal remedies for breast cancer treatment, secondary prevention, improving quality of life and controlling negative side effects of conventional breast cancer treatment.

12. Combats Heartburn and GERD

Heartburn, considered by a burning sensation and pain in the stomach and chest, can also be reduced with slippery elm. Mucilage of slippery elm coats the esophagus and decreases the irritation and inflammation that occurs when stomach acid flows up the esophagus.  It is also effective at treating gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD).

13. Relieves Asthma

Slippery elm is supposed to be an antitussive, meaning it aids in treating upper respiratory ailments like asthma or bronchitis. Its anti-inflammatory nature helps thin the mucus that clogs the airways. It can help prevent the bronchial spasms related with asthma attacks. It also offers relief from coughing and tightening of the chest.

14. Aids Weight Loss

Slippery elm improves digestion, and this is why it also aids weight loss. It binds to substances in the intestines that the body does not need and slows their absorption into the body. Plus, its diuretic properties help reduce fluid retention and shed water weight.

In a research, participants were given freshly prepared, mostly vegan meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was 1,200 to 1,400 calories for women and 1,600 to 1,800 calories for men on a daily basis. In this diet plan, slippery elm was also one of the main components, as it contains digestive enzymes to facilitate digestion.

During these three weeks, participants observed a major reduction in weight. Also, participants had reduced levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL or the ‘bad’ cholesterol).

Traditional uses and benefits of Slippery Elm

  • Slippery elm bark is a widely used herbal remedy and is considered to be one of the most valuable of remedies in herbal practice.
  • It is a gentle and effective remedy for irritated states of the mucous membranes of the chest, urinary tubules, stomach and intestines.
  • Inner bark consists of large quantities of a sticky slime that can be dried to a powder or made into a liquid.
  • Inner bark is demulcent, diuretic, emollient, expectorant, and nutritive.
  • It has a calming and healing effect on all parts of the body that it comes into contact with and is used in the treatment of sore throats, indigestion, digestive irritation, stomach ulcers etc.
  • It used to be frequently used as a food that was a nutritive tonic for the old, young and convalescents.
  • It was also applied externally to fresh wounds, burns and scalds.
  • Bark has been used as an antioxidant to prevent fats going rancid.
  • Whole bark, including the outer bark, has been used as a mechanical irritant to stop foet uses.
  • Bark of slippery elm contains a mucilaginous substance that was used as a treatment for coughs and diarrhea by the early settlers.
  • Take slippery elm by mouth for coughs, sore throat, colic, diarrhea, constipation, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bladder and urinary tract infections and inflammation, syphilis, herpes, and for expelling tapeworms.
  • It is also used for protecting against stomach and duodenal ulcers, for colitis, diverticulitis, gastrointestinal inflammation, and too much stomach acid.
  • Slippery elm is also taken by mouth to cause an abortion and for cancer.
  • Slippery elm is applied to the skin for wounds, burns, gout, rheumatism, cold sores, boils, abscesses, ulcers, toothaches, sore throat, and as a lubricant to ease labor.
  • Inner bark has been traditionally used for topical application. It calms irritated and inflamed Skin. It also promotes wound healing.
  • It calms irritated throat internally. It is often combined with antiseptic herbs.
  • It is used to treat indigestion, gastrointestinal reflux and inflammatory bowel diseases.
  • Slippery elm is mostly valuable both medicinally and as an injection in dysentery and other diseases of the bowels, cystitis as well as irritation of the urinary tract.
  • Decoction is made from the inner bark as a sore throat gargle, it is used as a topical application for burns and boils and is one of many herbs used as an eye wash.
  • Any inflammation of the skin is addressed with a poultice of slippery elm applied locally to the inflamed tissue, and is said to heal rapidly and effectively.
  • The Ojibwa of Canada used decoctions of the inner bark as a gargle for sore throats.
  • Decocted bark was regularly administered for upsets of the gastrointestinal tract, biliousness and as a general laxative.
  • Bark decoction was also applied successfully to gun-shot wounds.
  • Culbreth administered the powder in the shape of tents‖ to dilate fistula and strictures.
  • Bark preparations were recommended internally for regulation of intestinal disorders marked by dysentery and diarrhea.
  • Pregnant women would also drink Slippery Elm tea two or three weeks before going into labor to facilitate an easier birth.

Ayurvedic Health benefits of Slippery elm

  • Dysphasia: Prepare a decoction of the roots of Slippery Elm. Take two times a day. OR: Take one teaspoon powder of Slippery Elm with water two times a day.
  • Smoking addiction: Take a half teaspoon of slippery elm tea after lunch or take it as an infusion or capsules. OR: Purchase Slippery Elm capsule from the market. Have one capsule per day.
  • Mucolytic: Prepare a tea of Slippery Elm bark. Take 50 ml of it twice a day.
  • Laryngitis: Make a solution by mixing Slippery Elm bark powder with water in 1:8 ratios. Boil. Drink 20 ml of it twice a day
  • Hiatal Hernia: Add 1 teaspoon bark of Slippery Elm into a cup of water. Let it steep for 10 minutes. Drink it twice daily after meals.
  • Asthma: Boil 1 to 2 teaspoons of Slippery Elm in 2 cups of water. Simmer it for 5 minutes. Consume it twice daily for a week and see the results.
  • Leaky Gut syndrome: Add 1 teaspoon of Slippery Elm bark powder in one cup of water. Drink it 2 times a day.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Consume 1 teaspoon of Slippery Elm bark powder with beverages or juices.
  • Detox Tea for Cancer (basic): Mix powdered form of 6 parts Burdock Root, 4 parts Sheep Sorrel, 1 part Slippery Elm Bark and 1 teaspoon Rhubarb Root and store in a jar. Prepare a decoction. Take one teaspoon at a time. Boil in two cups water till water remains half. Leave on hot plate overnight. Strain through a coarse strainer. Consume cold either early morning or late at night.
  • Detox Tea for Cancer (advanced): Add 2 parts Kelp, 1 part Red Clover, 1 part Blessed Thistle and 0.4 parts Watercress. Prepare a decoction. Take one teaspoon at a time. Boil in two cups water till water remains half. Leave on hot plate overnight. Strain through a coarse strainer. Consume cold either early morning or late at night.
  • Abscess: Prepare a poultice of Slippery Elm, Wild Sage and Lobelia (equal parts). Apply it on affected area.
  • Tuberculosis: Mix powdered Slippery Elm, Eucalyptus Oil and water in equal quantities. Shake well and take internally One tablespoon daily.
  • Blood Clots: Combine equal quantity of Slippery Elm powder, Eucalyptus oil and water. Shake well and rub on the affected skin.
  • Arthritis: Take one part Cayenne, 3 part Lobelia, 6 part Verbascum Thapsus and 9 part Slippery Elm bark. Put 6 tablespoons of this mixture in boiling water and make a thick paste. Coat the paste on a soft cloth and apply on the affected area.
  • Colitis: Beat one egg and a tsp of slippery elm. Add one glass of boiled milk. Sugar to taste. Have it once a day for at least one week.
  • Croup: Take Slippery Elm, Boneset, Licorice, and Flax in equal quantity. Use it as a fomentation.
  • Sty: Take equal quantity. Verbascum Thapsus Leaves, Raspberry Leaves, Golden Seal Roots, Slippery Elm Leaves, Lobelia leaves and Common Marshmallow leaves. Grind them together. Apply as a fomentation.
  • Indigestion: Take 3 parts of both Asafoetida and Atractylodes and 2 teaspoons of Cumin Seed, Caraway Seed, Long Pepper, Black Pepper, Ginger, Dandelion, Slippery Elm, Green Citrus Peel and Rock Salt. Grind all these together and make a fine powder. Take one tablespoon after meals. It improves digestion and relieves gas.
  • Asthma & Bronchitis: Mix Licorice 6 parts by weight, Slippery Elm 3 parts and Lobelia one part. Start slowly by baby steps to find your own dose. Once relief sets in start reducing the dose.  Effects are miraculously fast in mild cases. Say a few days. Severe cases may take long. Say a few months
  • Wound: Mix course slippery elm powder in enough boiling water to make a paste. Allow it to cool. Apply it on the affected area. Wash it off after a few hours.
  • Weight Loss: Add 2 tablespoons of slippery elm bark powder to 2 cups of hot water. Allow it to steep for 5 minutes. Drink this tea 2 or 3 times a day.
  • Constipation: Mix 1 teaspoon of slippery elm bark powder in 2 cups of boiling water. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and a little bit of cinnamon powder. Drink 1 to 2 cups of this gruel twice a day, as needed.
  • Asthma: Add 2 teaspoons of the inner bark of slippery elm to 2 cups of boiling water. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Strain, and add 1 teaspoon of honey. Drink this tea twice daily when suffering from asthma.
  • Dermatitis: Wash and then grind a few slippery elm leaves to make a paste. Apply it on the affected skin. Allow it to sit on the skin until it dries completely, and then wash it off. Do this 2 or 3 times daily until you see improvement.

Culinary Uses

  • Leaves are consumed raw or cooked.
  • Inner bark can also be consumed raw or cooked.
  • It can be dried, ground into a powder and then used as a thickener in soups or added to cereal flours when making bread etc.
  • It can also be chewed as a thirst quencher.
  • Inner bark has been cooked with fats in order to prevent them becoming rancid.
  • Immature fruit can be consumed raw or cooked.
  • Tea-like beverage can be brewed from the inner bark.
  • A gruel made from the inner bark has been widely used as a convalescent food.

Other facts

  • Its use became so widespread that it is now banned in several countries.
  • Fiber obtained from the inner bark is used to make a twine.
  • Boiled bark has been used for making matting, nets etc.
  • Inner bark has been used in making baskets.
  • Bark has been used as a roofing material.
  • Weathered bark has been used as kindling for starting a fire.
  • Wood is very close-grained, tough, heavy, hard, strong, durable, and easy to split and is used for fence posts, window sills, agricultural implements etc.
  • Slippery elm is used in the manufacture of boxes, baskets, crates, and barrels.
  • Use of slippery elm (bark, un-powdered) is banned/restricted by some countries such as the UK, so consult your local health specialist before use.
  • Slippery elm is also used to make burial caskets, rope, chords, fence posts, furniture, and some musical instruments such as drums.


  • Outer bark constituents known to cause abortions so avoid during pregnancy.
  • Avoid use during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • Few of the side effects include nausea, hard stools, allergic reactions, and skin irritation.
  • Slippery elm may interfere with the absorption of some medications and decrease their effectiveness.
  • Slippery elm is not advised for the treatment for serious chronic conditions like cancer and bronchitis.
  • Slippery elm should only be given to children under the supervision of a well-informed practitioner.
  • It may be best to take slippery elm two hours before or after other herbs or medications you may be taking.
  • Slippery elm can be too intense for people with sensitive skin; you should stop use if you experience irritation, itchiness, or redness.
  • Slippery elm is strongly contraindicated during intestinal obstruction.






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