Slippery Elm

Slippery Elm Bark

Other Names: Ulmus fulva, red elm, Indian elm, moose elm

Composition: Slippery elm bark includes the fresh or dried inner lining of the bark of the tree. The dark bark should not be used. The inner bark is rich in mucilage.

Description and History: Slippery elm bark is native to the Eastern parts of North America. It was used by George Washington and his troops during the winter at Valley Forge and pioneers used it for food when nothing else was available. Its culinary benefits are similar to that of oatmeal. Medicinally, it is important to remember that the bark is effective at soothing sore throat, but only when it can come into direct contact with the irritation. For this reason, capsules are worthless at soothing irritated tissues. The preferred method is in a solid preparation that can line the throat.

Cross-Reference List: Cough; Constipation

Sore Throat: Slippery elm is rich in mucilage, which soothes irritation in a sore throat or a dry, scratchy cough. To achieve efficacy, it must come into contact with the throat so it can be used in a tablet or chewable, but not a capsule.

Laxative: Slippery elm bark is fiber-rich and acts as a mild laxative when consumed both as a preventive and as-needed. It is a mild laxative, so it needs to be combined with stronger bulking laxatives for more serious cases.

Gut Health: Slippery elm’s healing actions are known to also appear in the gut when ingested on a regular basis. While studies documenting the timeframe of healing specific to the gut have not been conducted, it is known that slippery elm stimulates the nerve endings in the GI tract to increase healing time in mucus membranes, enabling the herb to assist in the overall healing of the gut after it has been damaged by poor diet, antibiotics, celiac, or other conditions. This also protects the body from damage due to acid reflux-related conditions and prevents the development of stomach ulcers. 

Contraindications: None known.

Interactions: None known.

Preparations: Slippery elm is prized for its rich mucilage which is useful for soothing irritated mucus membranes such as sore throat, irritation in the digestive tract, and skin conditions. As a result, the herb must be applied directly to the affected area for efficacy, so it should be used in topical preparations or in lozenges where it will remain in contact with the inflamed area long enough to achieve results. It is not advisable in capsules or similar preparations unless it is being used exclusively for its laxative benefits. 

Dose: Slippery elm is used in topical preparations, without an upper limit for usage due to its wide safety range. Most herbal topical products use a 10-20% overall ratio of herb to the formula. Slippery elm bark can also be consumed liberally in the diet for overall health support for all ages. Upper limit on dosing is 2g per day, divided into individual doses for an otherwise healthy adult.

Find source references in the Epidemiology post.

Meet Dr Hawkins

Dr. Hawkins brings 20 years of expertise in the integrative health field to her role as Executive Director of the Franklin School of Integrative Health Sciences and the leader of our clinical research team.

She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Health from Union Institute and University, a Master’s Degree in Health Education & Promotion from the University of Alabama, a post-graduate certificate in epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a PhD in Health Research from Middle Tennessee State University, and is completing the post-doctoral Global Scholars Research Training Program at Harvard Medical School. She also holds certifications in numerous natural health fields including aromatherapy, aromatic medicine, herbalism, childbirth education, and labor support.