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Slippery Elm

In the world of herbal remedies, there exists a special category of plants known as demulcents, and today, our botanical spotlight is on one of the most renowned demulcents in the herbal kingdom: Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra). This remarkable herb, with its mucilaginous nature and soothing properties, has been a go-to remedy for centuries.


Demulcents, often referred to as nature’s soothing emollients, are plants that possess a thick, viscous, and slimy consistency, akin to honey. This unique attribute arises from their rich content of polysaccharides, which are plant starches. Among the notable demulcents are Slippery Elm, Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis), and Licorice (Glycyrrhiza species). What sets demulcents apart is their remarkable ability to soothe mucous membranes, including those within our digestive, respiratory, and urinary systems.

The Healing Power of Slippery Elm

Slippery Elm, scientifically known as Ulmus rubra, is a demulcent superstar with a rich history of traditional use among indigenous peoples and herbalists. Specifically is its mucilaginous inner bark, which is the part used for its medicinal properties.

(No less important is the use of this inner bark as a survival food, but our focus is on the medicinal properties. ~Amy J)

Soothing Irritated Membranes

Slippery Elm’s mucilaginous nature plays a pivotal role in healing. When consumed, it forms a soothing and protective layer along irritated mucous membranes, providing relief and promoting healing. This makes Slippery Elm a valuable ally in cases of gastrointestinal distress, sore throat, or other inflammatory conditions affecting the mucous membranes.

The Predicament of Overharvesting

While the therapeutic benefits of Slippery Elm are undeniable, there’s a pressing concern that demands our attention – overharvesting. Due to its popularity and widespread use, Slippery Elm has faced significant challenges in the wild. The relentless harvesting of its inner bark has raised conservation alarms, potentially jeopardizing its survival in the wild.

Seeking an Alternative

As responsible herbal enthusiasts, it’s crucial to explore alternatives to ease the pressure on Slippery Elm populations. Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) and Licorice (Glycyrrhiza species) are viable options with demulcent properties similar to Slippery Elm. Incorporating these herbs into your herbal repertoire can not only provide diverse healing options but also contribute to the conservation of Slippery Elm. This is not to say that you should never use Slippery Elm, I have it in my herbal cupboard, but it is not the only demulcent available, and if you can use something else with good results, it’s worth trying.

Harnessing the Healing Potential

Demulcent herbs like Slippery Elm, Marshmallow root, and Licorice can be harnessed in various forms, from teas to tinctures. However, it’s essential to note that the polysaccharides in these plants are primarily water-soluble. An alcohol based tincture would not be the best use of this herb.

A Better Approach

To fully experience the demulcent magic of these herbs, consider a different approach. Start by adding the demulcent herb as a powder to water. This creates a slimy, mucilaginous consistency that’s perfect for soothing mucous membranes. Once you’ve created this base, you can add other tinctures as needed and stir them in. This method ensures that you get the most out of these valuable plants without losing their beneficial properties. If this thickened water is not palatable, try adding powder to a bowl of oatmeal.

In conclusion, Slippery Elm stands as a demulcent hero in the world of herbalism, offering comfort to irritated mucous membranes. However, it’s crucial to address the issue of overharvesting and explore alternatives like Marshmallow root and Licorice.

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