Spotlight on Slippery Elm Bark

tree-barkUh-oh. I think that this whole solids thing may have gone awry. Not dreadfully, unrecoverably awry, more like, ‘let’s step back, assess and regroup’ awry. Avocado went well. No problems there. Four days of green slimy fun. Then I introduced mushed banana. I love this one because it’s gentle, easy to prepare (my older son and his friend mashed it themselves, before taking turns feeding baby), and full of potassium. It’s also the food we’d use during my days in Latin America for what my father would politely call, “Montezuma’s Revenge.” In other words, banana is good for stopping up the works. Little one hasn’t pooped in 2 days. He’s not quite ready for cooked prunes and plums… What now?

Enter slippery elm bark powder to the rescue. Slippery elm is an amazing option for baby’s constipation. It’s also amazing for my babysitter’s sore throat, and for my other babysitter’s coughing fit. (For more on our sitters‘ health plights this past week, check my recent blog on natural remedies for seasonal allergies.) WIth a pleasant, sweet, almost maple-y flavor, it’s great as a tea, mixed with fruit juice, or made into the world’s easiest lozenges. It can also be used externally to soothe skin conditions and diaper rash. Anything this multi-purpose in my world (by my unofficial count, I’ve leaned on slippery elm bark powder this week a total of 4 times) deserves a special spotlight…

A Brief Look at the History and Uses of Slippery Elm

Slippery elm bark is a large, deciduous tree that has been used for centuries by Native Americans for everything from skin conditions and gastrointestinal disorders to preventing food spoilage. Certain Native American populations would brew it as a porridge to nourish babies and the elderly during times of famine. Today it is commonly used as a respiratory aid as well for bronchitis, coughs, and sore throat (as we’ve proven lately in our household), along with GI and skin indications.

What Makes Slippery Elm Effective?

The key to the effectiveness of slippery elm may be the mucilaginous nature of the inner bark (this is the part of the bark that is used). The inner bark contains mucilage — a substance that turns gelatinous when mixed with water or other fluid. This mucilage can create a film that soothes and eases discomfort of the respiratory passages and the digestive passages. This makes the powder a favorite of mine for coughs. It also makes the powder effective for discomforts of the digestive tract. Slippery elm bark contains antioxidants and is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties as well. The formal Western research on this is sparse, but shows promise.

Slippery Elm for Gastro-Intestinal Ailments

Because Slippery Elm is a mucilage, it creates a film over the digestive tract that soothes the pains of a vast array of GI diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease. Scientists believe that mucilages stimulate the stomach’s nerve endings to produce more of its own protective mucus, and reduce excess stomach acid, making it a useful herb to soothe ulcers and prevent excessive acidity in the stomach. Its usefulness for gastrointestinal disorders may also be due to its fibrous nature — slippery elm is high in fiber, and moves through the digestive tract absorbing toxins and fluid as a bulk-forming laxative. Here’s where it comes in especially handy in my world — in addition to having analgesic properties in the face of stomachaches and other digestive concerns, it’s low toxicity makes it an excellent choice for babies’ constipation. Ironically, its tannins also make it useful for diarrhea. Talk about multi-purpose…

An adult dose is generally 2 Tablespoons administered as a tea in 2 cups of water. To use for babies or small children, take 1/2 to 1 tsp of slippery elm and mix it with warm water sweetened with a bit of maple syrup.


Alternatively you can mix the slippery elm with 1/2 cup purified water and 1/2 cup apple or pear juice, and give it to your little one either in a bottle, in a cup as tea, as a porridge, or even in a dropper. Because of it’s mucilagenic character, slippery elm turns into a goopy consistency fairly quickly, so my favorite way to give it is by the spoonful as a porridge. Or administer quickly — too long and my older son thinks it looks too much like mucus to ingest. Mercifully, my baby son doesn’t care. 🙂

Slippery Elm for Skin Conditions

Native Americans would soak the bark of the slippery elm, then let it dry over wounds as a bandage. In more recent years, famed psychic Edgar Cayce suggested the use of slippery elm bark in a recorded reading for treating psoriasis. This suggestion is currently being studied by clinical researchers at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Even without more extensive research, however, it has been used a great deal for a variety of skin conditions, as the mucilage reduces irritation and inflammation, forming a jelly-like protective coating. It works on the level of soothing rather than curing or speeding healing.

To use it this way, take slippery elm bark powder in a small bowl or ramekin, and wet with just enough warm water that it becomes paste-like in consistency. Apply the slippery elm paste directly to the wound, or to a piece of clean gauze or cheesecloth, pressed onto the wound gently as a poultice.

Slippery Elm for Respiratory Ailments

And finally, coughs, bronchitis and sore throat pain, beware. Slippery elm soothes and moistens mucus membranes of the nose, throat and lungs, providing relief for a variety of respiratory conditions, including cough and bronchitis symptoms.

For a pain-relieving sore throat tea for kids, use 2 teaspoons of slippery elm bark powder in 1 cup of water — steep for 3-5 minutes, then cool to a palatable temperature for your child (test on the inside of your wrist first). Sweeten with honey to taste if your child is over 15 months of age (otherwise maple syrup is a safe bet…) For adults, use 1 tablespoon in 1 cup of water. Drink throughout day or as symptoms persist.

For an easy children’s cough solution, I’ve long leaned on a wonderful recipe from Aviva Jill Romm’s book, “Naturally Healthy Babies and Children”. Mix 2 tablespoons of slippery elm bark powder with enough maple syrup or honey (in children over 15 months of age) to make a dough-like consistency. Roll into balls, or into a long snake-like piece of dough, then cut into 1/4 inch pieces. Your child can either eat as is, or you can roll the pieces in a dusting of the powder, and cook at 250 degrees until firm, allowing them to harden. Have your child eat or suck on them as often as desired. For children under 15 months old, use maple syrup instead of honey, and offer these only if they’re already accustomed to solid foods. Otherwise, you can offer them a 1/2 teaspoon of slippery elm bark powder mixed in 1 cup of warm water sweetened with maple syrup, or with 1/2 cup warm apple or pear juice, 1/2 cup purified water.

Now that you’re armed and ready with your arsenal of slippery elm bark powder, and virtually every conceivable (or should I say, reasonable:)) use for it, I hope that this blog ends up being a bit like carrying an umbrella to ensure a day without rain. But if you do encounter the occasional cough, sore throat, skin condition, constipation, stomachache in your household, consider it one-stop shopping. Slippery elm. You’re all set.


Heard more now on slippery elm now than you ever knew or cared to know about it? If not, check out these great references for more information:

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center — for a comprehensive examination of the properties of slippery elm, and the scientific research available ( — a clear, well-researched synopsis of the benefits of slippery elm (…)
-> Get Slippery Elm Bark Capsules on Amazon
“Naturally Healthy Babies and Children: A Commonsense Guide to Herbal Remedies, Nutrition, and Health”; Aviva Jill Romm, et al.; 2003

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *