Slippery elm: A herbal remedy to boost wellbeing?

Struggling with your digestive health? Slippery elm has been used in North America for centuries and is gaining increasing popularity as a herbal therapy.

The slippery elm tree, grown throughout the US and Canada, was used by Native Americans for therapeutic remedies including a birthing aid and poultice for healing wounds.

Botanically known as ulmis rubra, the inner bark of the slippery elm is now popularly used to help remedy digestive issues including IBS, diarrhoea, gastritis and ulcers, and while more research is needed, it may help with throat inflammation.

What makes slippery elm effective?

Slippery elm bark is mucilaginous – meaning it has a thick, gelatinous consistency – which makes it helpful in soothing irritation.

“When ingested, the mucilage forms a physical barrier which coats the esophageal and stomach walls, protecting from the damaging effects of stomach acid,” House of Wellness pharmacist and herbalist Gerald Quigley says.

“It’s used to coat inflamed surfaces within the gastrointestinal tract, specifically for things like dyspepsia or reflux,” he says.

Gerald says slippery elm can help in the management of acid production.

“I prescribe slippery elm for people who might be taking antacids but still get breakthrough acidity and indigestion, particularly when they go to bed,” he says.

How to use slippery elm

There are a number of ways to take slippery elm, including:

  • Lozenges
  • Powders
  • Tablets
  • Capsules
  • Tea

“I find it to be more effective when used as a powder,” naturopath Tracee Blythe says. “When I use it together with other nutrients and herbs for reflux and heartburn, I ask the patient to mix it into water to create a thin paste.”

Tracee says drinking it delivers a fast-acting contact anti-inflammatory effect while promoting longer-term healing and repair.

“The paste can also be gargled then swallowed to help soothe a dry, tickly and irritating cough,” Tracee says.

Gerald says the drink has an acquired taste and many people find the capsule form is more palatable.

“It’s better to have it in a capsule form rather than not at all,” he says.

Does slippery elm have side effects?

While generally known as a safe therapy, Tracee says avoid mixing slippery elm with other medications.

“Being a fibrous herb (and for an abundance of caution), I recommend supplements containing slippery elm be taken two hours away from any prescribed medications, as the slippery elm may slow or reduce absorption of medicines,” she says.

Written by Samantha Allemann.