From the March 2000 Idaho Observer:

Slippery elm: A wonderfully mucilaginous bark that soothes upset stomachs and irritated skin

by Carol Geck, ND

Slippery Elm is probably one of the most forgotten herbs among today's natural healers and yet is one of the most useful herbs to keep on hand. Slippery Elm grows throughout North America, and is also known by the names Red Elm, Moose Elm, Rock Elm, Sweet Elm, Winged Elm, and Indian Elm.

The medicinal part of Slippery Elm is the dried inner part of the bark. The inner bark is then ground into powder and used for its mucilaginous properties. Dr. Edward Shook, founder of the Los Angeles Herbal Institute many years ago, gives the following breakdown for slippery elm bark:

“The principle constituents of the bark are the mucilage which is very similar to that found in flaxseed (C-12, H-20, O-10), starch, clacium oxalate (CA, C2, O4) and acid sodium phosphate (H-2, NA, PO-4).”

Taken as a tea, it can help to relieve the irritations of the mucous membranes in our bodies. This involves the 30 to 32 feet of the alimentary canal or intestinal tract. This wonderful herb is good for such things as sore throats, gastrointestinal ulcers, tuberculosis, asthma, diphtheria, croup, pleurisy, diarrhea, dysentery, and many urinary problems. Externally, it is can be applied as a poultice to irritated and inflamed skin, skin ulcers and to wounds. It is commonly used this way to relieve the itchiness from poison ivy and chicken pox.

For a natural antacid, slippery elm is able to neutralize excess acids in the stomach and intestines.

I have found that drinking slippery elm tea is quite effective in overcoming indigestion. So next time you reach for one of those antacids that are advertised on the television, think about slippery elm capsules or a nice cup of slippery elm tea. You can find capsules or the bulk herb at your nearest health food store. It is preferable use all organic herbs and teas.

Slippery Elm is also rich in nutrients and is easy to digest, making it an excellent food to replace those that may cause digestive discomfort. It can be made into a gruel with the consistency of oatmeal for food purposes.This will usually stay down even when all else causes nausea and vomiting and will give strength when needed.

A somewhat standard way to make slippery elm gruel is to gradually mix one pint or more of warm (not hot or to the boiling point) honey water with four to six tablespoons of slippery elm root powder. Use a wire wisk to mix the gruel. Do this until the desired consistency is attained. For flavoring, you can add a bit of honey, pure maple syrup or barley malt and/or a dash or two of cinnamon powder. In most cases, this mixture should be readily accepted both by young infants as well as the aged. For those who are severely debilitated and wasting away, you can prepare the gruel with ginseng tea. In times of famine, early American settlers used it as a survival food. It is said GeorgeWashington and his troops survived for several days on slippery elm gruel during the bitter winter at Valley Forge.

Many years ago, a knife slipped in my hand and I was left with a gash across my little finger which bled profusely. At one point I thought that I may need to go the nearest emergency center.

I then remembered what I had been taught in herb class: that Native Americans used slippery elm for cuts. As I sprinkled slippery elm on my finger, the bleeding stopped as the powdered herb sealed and then protected the wound like a natural cast.This stayed on my finger until the healing was complete, which was about 2 weeks. When the “cast” finally fell off my finger, the skin was totally healed with just a small hint of a scar. I wore gloves to wash dishes or to take a shower during that time.

Another opportunity arose in which I used it on our beloved cat. When she was first given to us we decided that we had lost so many to the coyotes in the area, that she would be an “indoor cat." Knowing that cats love to shred furniture and the like, we had her front paws declawed. Apparently the veterinarian had trouble controlling her so we were called to take her home. She kept pulling off the bandages revealing that her paws were bleeding horribly. We grabbed the slippery elm and dipped her paws into the powder. The bleeding soon stopped and she finally calmed down. Anytime, that it appeared that she had licked the”cast” down to the wound, we would “redip” her paws.

We never go anywhere without our “traveling natural emergency kit” which contains slippery elm. I can honestly say that slippery elm is used the most out of the kit. It is a very good idea to carry this precious herb with you at all times. You never know when the occasion will arise when it will be needed.

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