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Slippery elm (Ulmus fulva) has been used as an herbal remedy in the United States for centuries and is now enjoying greater popularity than ever. This plant has received recognition from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a safe and effective remedy for soothing throat and respiratory irritation. Herbalists also recommend it for suppressing coughs and, externally, for treating wounds and cuts. The mucilage, or gummy secretion, from the bark of the slippery elm is also considered a wholesome nutritional food, similar in texture to oatmeal.
Slippery elm is a small- to medium-sized tree native to North America. It can reach a height of 20 meters and is topped by spreading branches that form an open crown. The red-brown or orange branches grow downward, and the stalkless flowers are arranged in dense clusters. The plant's leaves are long and green, darkening in color during the fall. The bark has deep fissures, a gummy texture, and a slight but distinct odor.
The slippery elm's inner bark is used for medicinal purposes.
Slippery elm is used to treat the following conditions and symptoms.
Traditionally, slippery elm has also been used as a skin softener and smoother, a cough medicine, and a nutritional food. It is used externally as a poultice to treat wounds, burns, and other skin conditions, as well as vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina, usually caused by infection) and hemorrhoids.
Commercial preparations are made from 10-year-old inner bark, or bast, sold in long flat pieces about two to three feet long, between 1/8 and 1/16 of an inch in thickness. Available forms include the following.
How to Take It
The following are recommended doses for slippery elm.
For external use:
Mix coarse powdered bark with boiling water for poultices.
There are no known health hazards reported for slippery elm when it is properly administered in recommended therapeutic doses.
Taking slippery elm with oral medications may decrease the absorption of these medications.
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Beveridge RJ, Stoddart JP, Szarek WA, Jones JK. Some structural features of the mucilage from the bark of Ulmus fulva (slippery elm mucilage). Carbohydr Res. 1969;9:429-439.
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