Slippery elm bark has been used as a food supplement and herbal remedy for many decades.
The Slippery Elm is a favorite shade and ornamental tree throughout Canada and the United States. The inner bark is the only part used to make essiac, however.
As a tonic, slippery elm bark known for its ability to sooth and strengthen the organs, tissues, and mucous membranes, especially the lungs and stomach. The popularity of slippery elm bark has endured, no doubt, because it works so well for coating and soothing irritated or inflamed mucous membranes. This is the work of an ingredient in the inner bark called mucilage, a gummy, gel-like substance that when ingested forms a protective layer along the throat, digestive tract, and other areas.
Astringent compounds in the herb called tannins help tighten and constrict the tissue.
For the same reasons, salves and ointments containing slippery elm have long been popular for coating well-cleaned minor wounds and burns to protect them from further injury. It promotes fast healing of cuts, burns, ulcers and wounds, especially when applied as a poultice. In the same manner is can be used for aching joints. Slippery Elm Bark also helps alleviate sore throats. It is an ingredient in lozenges sold to soothe throat irritation. Since sore throat and cough are often linked, slippery elm bark has also been used in cough remedies. Warm slippery elm bark tea works for cough and sore throat too, as does a liquid extract. And for the pain of acute bronchitis, there may be no more soothing balm than several cups of slippery elm tea to lubricate and protect raw and irritated airways. Slippery Elm Bark is known among herbalists for its ability to cleanse, heal, and strengthen the body.
Slippery elm bark may ease gastrointestinal symptoms of conditions such as Crohn's disease. Slippery elm's soothing mucilage effect is also used for disorders of the gastrointestinal tract. Mucilage is a complex mixture of polysaccharides that form a soothing gelatinous fiber when water is added. The viscous fiber has several beneficial effects on digestion:
(1) it reduces the amount of time digestives remain in the bowel;
(2) it absorbs toxins from the bowel;
(3) it increases the bulk of stools and dilutes stool materials thereby reducing stool contact with the intestinal mucosa; and
(4) it enhances helpful bacteria processes in the intestines. The mucilage resists hydrolysis and digestion by stomachs acids and enzymes, meaning that it maintains it's soothing action throughout the entire digestive system. The discomforts of heartburn or an ulcer may respond to slippery elm bark.
Slippery elm bark contains, as its primary ingredient, the mucilage, but also contains gallic acid, phenols, starches, sugars, the vitamins A, B complex, C, K, and P. It contains large amounts of calcium, magnesium, and sodium, as well as smaller amounts of chromium, selenium, iron, phosphorous, silicon and zinc.
Slippery elm is considered a safe herb when taken at commonly recommended dosages. However, the possible side effects of using products containing slippery elm bark such as essiac during pregnancy or while breast-feeding are unknown.
Health authorities in the United States have recognized slippery elm bark to be an effective medicine for a while now. Slippery elm bark has the approval of the Food and Drug Administration as a nonprescription demulcent (soothing agent) that can be taken internally.