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What is it?
Slippery Elm is the name of a small tree from the Elm family and the part used in medicine is from the inner bark. It is very important that you only use Slippery Elm bark from trees that have been sustainably harvested as this is a herb that has become increasingly endangered.
How has it been used?
Slippery Elm has been extensively used in herbal medicine for many centuries. It has pronounced cooling and nourishing properties that make it especially helpful for people whose systems have become too 'hot' or 'dry' (more info about what I mean by that distinction here)
In practice, Slippery Elm's
three main uses are:
a) as an internal bandage for inflammation or ulceration anywhere along the digestive tract
b) as a drawing agent when used as an external poultice and
c) as a ‘food’ for use in convalescence.
Slippery Elm in a drawing poultice is a thing to behold. It is quite remarkable how it forms a gelatinous, gooey mass that sits there being soothing but then also hoovers up foreign material or damaged tissue.
Slippery Elm as an internal bandage is surely where it has provided its most dramatic healing affects and this is the method with which I have most of my own experience in using the herb.
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Please note that it is important that you only use Slippery Elm bark from trees that have been sustainably harvested as this is a herb that has become increasingly endangered.
If someone has actual physical damage to a part of their digestive tract then I will often use Slippery Elm as the first choice. As much as there may well be other agents that could be beneficial that do not have the same issues of scarcity that we have with Slippery Elm I just do not know anything that can help bandage an internal wound so quickly and effectively (in our own clinic we have found a supplier that certifies the herb is harvested sustainably).
You need to visualise what Slippery Elm does whilst it is in the gut to get a good feel for how to use it. Slippery Elm makes a wet, gooey, sticky mess if you dilute it and leave it to set and so as it slowly slides down through the digestion on its way to being eliminated it is able to make a bandage.
As soon as you get significant inflammation it physically changes the surface tissues to become rough, red and sore, rather like a graze. Slippery Elm is able to stick to those sore bits for at least a while and so give them a vitally needed rest from other abrasive food or wastes.
However it can’t stick there forever which is why we may need to use the herb frequently in the beginning because the longer those damaged gut surfaces stay bandaged, the faster they can heal, and gut tissue can heal remarkably quickly when it is given a chance.
Your gut lining is exactly like your external skin in that it is constantly shedding and replacing itself. It has to be like this because it is subjected to so many stresses. If you can keep that wound or graze well bandaged for long enough, which is often just a few days, then everything can quickly turn around for the good.
This is why it is recommended to use enough Slippery Elm to form a bandage and to use it frequently, for as long as you need. In practical terms that means I am usually prescribing between one and two heaped tsps. and I am recommending that people take it at least 3 times a day if necessary. Start with one tsp but if it you need to take two heaped teaspoons to form a sufficient sized bandage to get obvious relief from pain then two heaped teaspoons has to be the dose you use.
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Exactly how you take the Slippery Elm is flexible. You obviously have to dilute it in some way but it really doesn’t matter how. These are the two most common ways.
- The slurry
Put the one or two tsps. into a large, clean and dry glass. Get water that is a temperature that you will find easy to drink quickly and add the water to the powder whilst rapidly stirring. Depending on the amount of powder you may be able to dilute the whole lot in the first glass but you must make sure you drink the slurry quickly. The longer it takes the thicker it will get. There may well be some residue powder left over at the bottom, if so dilute it again whilst stirring and drink.
This process, like everything, gets easier with practice.
- The gruel
This is the old fashioned way of using Slippery Elm. It’s also very effective and quite palatable for most people.
Making Slippery Elm gruel is just like making a very thin porridge, put the one or two heaped teaspoons of Slippery Elm Into a saucepan, add a liquid (milk and water go well here) and stir whilst gently heating.
Slippery Elm can absorb a lot of liquid and as gruels are meant to be thin you can add more liquid as you go if it is getting too thick. I think that a little honey, or sugar, is a very good idea to add to the mixture but it is up to you. When finished, eat.
I have had patients use this in combination with actual oats, or rice, or some other grain, especially when they have been giving it to their kids and that is also absolutely fine.
- The capsules
You might be best to simply take plenty of capsules if either of the above methods is just not going to work for you! The amounts you could need to take to get an effective bandage might need to start at as much as 4 capsules twice a day (and you could go higher than that if you had to) but if you need to swallow a lot of capsules for it to work and this is how you can best take it then so what, it's better than having a wound inside your gut!
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Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898
Slippery elm bark is a very valuable remedial agent in mucous inflammations of the lungs, bowels, stomach, bladder, or kidneys. It is also highly beneficial in diarrhoea, dysentery, coughs, pleurisy, strangury, and sore throat, in all of which it tends powerfully to allay the inflammation.
A tablespoonful of the powder boiled in a pint of new milk, affords a nourishing diet for infants weaned from the breast, preventing the bowel complaints to which they are subject, and rendering them fat and healthy.
Elm bark has likewise been successfully employed externally in cutaneous diseases, especially in obstinate cases of herpetic and syphilitic eruptions.
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