Slippery Elm Bark Powder: More Bark than Bite
Initially slippery elm bark conjures up images of a tree covered in some kind of oil, or possibly just a shady tree with the ability to be one step ahead of the law…
As a native tree of North America, the slippery elm is otherwise known by its botanical name, Ulmus rubra. It derives its common name, slippery elm, from its inner bark which has deep fissures, a gummy texture, and a slight but distinct odor.
The bark contains high levels of mucilage - a thick, claggy substance produced by some plants to help store water and food. It’s also the perfect environment for plants to germinate seeds.
Slippery elm bark has a long history of uses, especially in its native continent.
The American Indians used slippery elm bark to create balms or salves to heal wounds, burns, ulcers and skin conditions. They also took it orally to relieve sore throats, coughs and stomach complaints.
During the American Civil War it was used on the wounds of soldiers when little else was available.
More recently slippery elm bark tablets were chewed by baseball spitball pitchers at the beginning of the 20th Century, to achieve the famed knuckleball.
Though highly illegal, viscous saliva (manufactured by the slippery elm bark) was applied to the ball before a pitch creating a minimum of spin and a maximum effect, rendering a knuckleball virtually impossible to hit.
Baseball aside, there are other familiar foods with the high levels of mucilage found in slippery elm bark.
Flax seeds and chia seeds both contain mucilage, which is known in herbal medicine as a demulcent. This term refers to its ability to soothe, coat and heal mucous membranes.
I promise I’ll keep the use of the word mucous to an absolute minimum.
Despite all of the historical evidence, there is sadly a definite lack of scientific inquiry into the benefits and applications of slippery elm powder for human health.
Slippery Elm Bark: Insanely Good For Your Membranes
It’s pretty impressive that something so beneficial can come straight from the bark of a tree.
With its high levels of naturally occurring mucilage, slippery elm bark is traditionally indicated for conditions involving inflammation or disturbance of our membranes - from the gastrointestinal lining to topically, on the skin.
Slippery elm bark powder may be useful for the following conditions:
✔ Digestive irritation
✔ GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)
May assist with indigestion, heartburn and low-acidity.
✔ Symptoms of cold and flu
May soothe the respiratory tract and act as an antitussive (cough suppressant).
✔ IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), constipation, diarrhea
May soothe intestinal membranes, and provide bulk for stools (in both constipation and diarrhea).
✔ Topically for skin ulcers and cold sores
As mentioned, the American Indians used slippery elm bark in poultices and compresses for wounds and skin irritation.
Traditional Uses For Slippery Elm Bark
Slippery elm bark powder was historically prescribed for the treatment of any sore or inflamed tissues, usually in combination with marshmallow, cranesbill, and soothing digestive herbs.
It is most commonly prescribed to people with digestive issues and inflammatory issues like Crohn’s disease and leaky gut syndrome.
It is also one of the primary ingredients in Essiac Tea - which is traditionally a natural anti-cancer treatment and was promoted in North America from the 1920’s to the 1970’s.
A side note about Essiac tea - repeated laboratory tests showed that Essiac failed to slow tumor growth. As a result, both the U.S. and Canadian governments refused to approve Essiac as a medical treatment.
How To Take Slippery Elm Bark
Considered more of a ‘functional food’ than a supplement, no specific dosages exist, no upper limit has been established, and no adverse reactions reported. So that is all great news!
However, a typical prescription is one teaspoonful of the power, made into a paste by adding hot or cold water. This can be taken at intervals throughout the day, before bed as an antitussive (cough suppressant), or included as a tea or ingredient in meals - such as porridge.
Slippery Elm bark powder has been included in Athletic Greens as most people can benefit in some degree from digestive assistance. It is also a great complementary ingredient to all the other digestive related ingredients present in Athletic Greens.
Just so you have the full picture here, slippery Elm bark powder works well with ginger to soothe digestive issues, with high vitamin C superfoods like acerola cherry and rosehip fruit, and with zinc and selenium for immune health.
Taken with prebiotics, probiotics and licorice root, it can relieve constipation.
And you guessed right, we have added all of these great ingredients to Athletic Greens.
Slippery Elm Bark can work reasonably fast to help with digestive issues, sometimes as soon as 1 to 2 days. However, most digestive issues tend to be chronic and this is where regular slippery elm consumption can really help out…
Which is a very polite way of saying that getting it regularly in your daily dose of Athletic Greens is a smart way of doing it.
For those of us not living in North America with the ability to source slippery elm bark from the actual trees, it can also be found at health food stores, and some pharmacies and supermarkets also stock it.
So you should have no trouble tracking it down as an individual ingredient, especially if you are interested in exploring its topical uses.
Food For Thought
It is best to be aware that slippery elm bark powder may actually slow down the speed at which the body absorbs medications due to its dynamic coating action.
For this reason it’s recommended that you avoid taking slippery elm at the same time as other vital medications, unless specifically prescribed by a healthcare professional.
Slippery elm bark powder appears to be a safe and anecdotally effective herb for soothing irritated, inflamed or otherwise compromised mucous membranes. As we have demonstrated, it has a long history of use for a variety of ailments, and patiently awaits further research and application.