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Herbal Monograph

Herb:   Slippery Elm  (Ulmus fulva; Ulmaceae)

Other Names:  red elm, sweet elm (2); Red elm, moose elm  (57)

Character/Energetics:    sweet, neutral     (6)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected: lung, stomach (6); digestive system,  skin    (9) general effects on the whole body    (14)   

Part(s) used:      inner bark    (6) inner bark    (8)

Identification & Harvesting:    A medium-sized tree that grows up to 70 ft. tall with spread branches forming an open crown.  Younger branches are red-brown or orange and downy.  Bark is deeply fissured.  Buds are large, rust-red and downy.  Leaves are oblong, 4-8″ long with a double-serrate margin;  dark green above and very rough, densely downy beneath.  Flowers are in dense clusters  Fruit is broad-elliptical, up to 1″ long, wide and smooth, except for the rust-red downy center.  Seeds are inserted in the center.  Indigenous to N. America.    (2)

The bark is stripped from the trunk and large branches in the spring. In commercial use this usually leads to the tree dying, as part of the bark is stripped. Ten-year-old bark is recommended. (9)

Bark occurs in flat pieces, about 2 inches wide and 2 feet or more long, usually folded, about 1/24 inch thick.  It has a pinkish or faintly rusty tint, a tough, fibrous texture, and mealy fracture, and is slightly striated longitudinally.  Tastes very mucilaginous.  Resembles lovage or fenugreek in odor.    (57); Native from Maine through the St. Lawrence valley, west to the Dakotas, douth to Texas, and east to Florida  (61)

Active Constituents:  Mucilages incl. pentosans, methyl pentosans and one hexosan, yielding mainly D-galactose after hydrolysis; trace tannins.    (2)

mucilages, tannins    (6)   (9)

Actions:    demulcent, emollient and soothing to the alimentary canal.    (2)

yin tonic, nutritive, demulcent, expectorant, emollient, astringent, vulnerary     (6)

            demulcent, emollient, nutrient, astringent   (9)

Primarily demulcent, emollient, nutritive;  also astringent.    (14)

            demulcent, nutritive, astringent   (15)

Diuretic, emollient, demulcent, pectoral.    (57)

Conditions & Uses:    Treats gastritis, gastric or duodenal ulcers;  externally used to treat wounds, burns and skin conditions.    (2)

(Slippery elm bark) is used to treat sore throat, coughs, 

bleeding from thc lungs and other lung problems, dryness of the throat, wasting diseases, digestive problems, nausea. (6)

Slippery Elm Bark is a soothing nutritive demulcent which is perfectly suited for sensitive or inflamed mucous membrane linings in the digestive system. It can be used in gastritis, gastric or duodenal ulcer, enteritis, colitis and the like. It is often used as a food during convalescence as it is gentle and easily assimilated. In diarrhoea it will soothe and astringe at the same time. Externally, it makes an excellent poultice for use in cases of boils, abscesses or ulcers.   (9)

Internal uses — bladder inflammation, cystitis, diverticulitis, dysentery, flu:  decoction*.  Bronchitis, gas:  decoction, syrup.  Colitis, stomach problems, ulcers:  decoction, gruel.  Constipation:  decoction*, syrup*, gruel.  Cramps (ovarian):  decoction*, syrup*.  Coughs, lung congestion:  syrup, decoction.  Diarrhea:  gruel.  Eczema:  decoction*, powder*.  Hemorrhage:  decoction*, powder*, syrup*.  Hoarseness:  syrup.  Tonsillitis:  syrup*, decoction, throat lozenges.  Hemorrhoids:  decoction*, gruel.

External uses — burns, open sores, wounds:  poultice.  Colitis, constipation, diverticulitis, dysentery, hemorrhoids:  enema.  Gangrenous wounds:  poultice (combine with wormwood and charcoal).  Leukorrhea:  douche.  Rheumatic and gouty afflictions:  poultice of bran, apple cider vinegar and slippery elm.  Mix into a paste and apply.

*Usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem.

Slippery elm used as a gruel is nourishing for children and the elderly with weak stomachs, ulcers and those recovering from diseases.  It will relieve constipation and diarrhea.  Slippery elm tea is good for coughs and bronchitis when added to cough medicines.  Slippery elm is also used to bind the materials of suppositories, boluses, lozenges and unleavened breads together.  Externally, use it as a poultice applied to sores, wounds, burns, open sores and infected skin problem areas.  It is a good addition to douches and enemas when there is inflammation and burning.  If used as a douche or enema, it will need to be diluted with water so it will not plug the apparatus as it is a mucilaginous herb.    (14)

For gastritis & ulceration: demulcent; soothes irritated mucous membranes; nutritive for debilitated conditions.   (15)

One of the most valuable articles in the botanic practice, and should be in every household.  The finely powdered bark makes an excellent gruel or food, and may be used as such in all cases of weakness, inflammation of the stomach, bronchitis, etc.  It has a wonderfully soothing and healing action on all the parts it comes in contact with, and in addition possesses as much nutrition as is contained in oatmeal.  The food or gruel should be made as follows:  take a teaspoon of the powder, mix well with the same quantity of powdered sugar and add a pint of boiling water slowly, mixing as it is poured on.  This may be flavored with cinnamon or nutmeg to suit the taste, and makes a very wholesome and sustaining food for infants.  The coarse powder forms the finest poultice to be obtained for all inflamed surfaces, ulcers, wounds, burns, boils, skin diseases, purulent ophthalmia, chilblains, etc.  It soothes the part, disperses the inflammation, draws out impurities, and heals speedily.  We cannot speak too highly of this remedy, and are confident there is nothing to equal it in the world for its above-mentioned uses.  Inflammation in the bowels of infants and adults has been cured, when all other remedies have failed, by an injection into the bowels of an infusion of an ounce of powdered bark to a pint of boiling water, used while warm.  Also used in lozenges to relieve irritation of the pharynx.    (57)

Native Americans from the Missouri River Valley used a tea of the fresh inner bark for a soothing laxative.  Among the Creek, a poultice was a toothache remedy.  The Osage and others applied poultices to extract thorns and gunshot balls.  Surgeons in the Revolution used poultices as the primary treatment for gunshot wounds.  Nineteenth century physicians recommended a broth as a wholesome and nutritious food for infants and invalids, and the tea has long been the herbal treatment of choice for acute stomach ulcers and colitis.  Contains high levels of mucilage which, in water, soothe irritated mucous membranes of the throat and intestinal tract.    (61)

Combinations: For gangrenous wounds, suppurating sores and bed sores, combine it with equal parts of echinacea and comfrey root powders. To stimulate suppuration, add brewer’s yeast. For rheumatic, gouty and arthritic aches, mix with equal parts of wheat bran and moisten with warm apple cider vinegar.  (6)                                                                               

For digestive problems it may be used with marshmallow.   (9)

For gastritis and ulceration: combine with powdered marshmallow root in capsules if desired.   (15)                                                                                                                                                       

Precautions:    No known hazards or side effects with designated dosages.    (2)

Taking large amounts can slow absorption of other substances, due to high mucilage content.    (1)

Bark is highly combustible.  No known side effects.    (61)

Tincturing Process:

Applications:  Gruel: This is one of the most mucilaginous herbs, and gruel may be made by slowly mixing cool water into the powdered herb until a thick porridge consistency is achieved. This may be flavored with a little honey or a dash of cinnamon and is a good food to give, even to infants when there is difficulty in keeping food down. This gruel may be given for any wasting diseases and its tonic properties can be supplemented by preparing it with a tea of ginseng instead of water. Slippery elm also is good for colitis and ulcers. It is a strengthening herb that may be eaten freely It is one of the most versatile herbs and can be used alone or with other appropriate powdercd hcrbs as a heating poultice for injuries, burns and aIl inflamed surfaces.

          Ointment: A slippery elm-marshmallow ointment is made with 3 oz. marshmallow or malva leaves, 2 oz. comfrey leaves, 2 oz. cchinacca, 2 oz. golden seal powder, 3 oz. slippery elm bark powder, 6 ounccs of beeswax,1 quart of ghee, olive or sesame oils, 1 oz. tincturc of benzoin. Boil the herbs in 2 quarts of water for 15 minutes. Press-strain and reduce the resulting tea down to a pint. Melt the beeswax and oil slowly so as not to burn them, and add the tea. Continue to heat

slowly until aIl of the water has evaporated. Bottle in a wide-mouthed jar.  (6)

          Decoction:  use 1 part of the powdered bark to 8 parts of water. Mix the powder in a little water initially to ensure it will mix. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes. Drink half a cup 3x daily.

            Poultice:  mix the coarse powdered bark with enough boiling water to make a paste.   (9)

Infusion (powder):  slowly pour 1 pint of boiling water over 1 oz. powdered bark, stirring constantly.  Simmer 5-15 min.; 6 oz., 3-4 x daily.  Decoction (whole bark):  simmer 5-15 min.;  3 oz., 3-4 x daily.  Tincture:  15-30 drops 3-4 x daily.  Fluid extract:  1/2-1 tsp 3-4 x daily.  Gruel:  Mix 1 tsp powder with sufficient cold water to make a thin and ver smooth paste.  Stirring steadily, pour 1 pint of boiling water onto the paste.  Flavor with honey, lemon rind, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg or other spices.  1/2-1 pint (warm) 1-3 x daily.  Syrup:  1 tbsp as needed.  Powder:  5-10 #0 capsules (30-60 grains) 3-4 x daily.    (14)

Mucilage is made by digesting 6 g (93 grains) of powder in 100 cc water, placed in a closed vessel and heated on a waterbath for one hour and then strained.    (57)


Dosage: 9-30 gms    (6) 

For gastritis & ulceration: Take up to 5 g powdered bark in capsules or mixed with water, before meals. (15) 

Up to twelve 370 mg capsules daily.  Steep 1/2 tsp powdered bark in a cup of hot water;  take 2-3 x daily.  Tincture 10-30 drops up to 5 x daily.    (61)                                                                                                                        

General Notes: It is often better to use the cut and sifted bark, rather than the powder which will be too mucilaginous to make slippery elm tea.    

A native California tree in the Tiliaceae family, Fremontia californica is nearly identical in properties and use with the East coast North American slippery elm. It grows abundantly in the Southern Sicrra Ncvada region and has begun to be cultivated as an omamental tree.   (6)                                                          



(1) Cayuga Botanicals Research Data, “Herb/Drug Interactions” by Varro Tyler, PhD, ScD, Prevention, Sept. ’98, p. 97

(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), p. 1196

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pgs. 324-325

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 233

(9) The Herbal Handbook by David Hoffman, pgs. 56-57

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 177-78

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 152-53, 182

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., pgs. 321-22

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 190-91


PHOTO: Wikipedia