Every now and again an old herbal remedy is brought out of the cupboard, dusted down and given a new lease of life. When I took over Napiers in 1990, one of most loved remedies was Slippery Elm powder, either on its own or mixed with marshmallow root, cinnamon powder and even psyllium husks. Known as ‘slippery elm food’, the powder was mixed with either water or warm milk and made into a soothing night time drink. For years my father, who had a stomach ulcer, took Slippery Elm powder every night because, hidden within this comforting brew, are a whole host of gut beneficial compounds, now known to be ‘pre-biotics’.
Slippery Elm (Ulmas fulva) is a tree, indigenous to the United States, that has been decimated by Dutch Elm disease and is now a precious resource, with only a few farms growing it sustainably. Slippery Elm bark contains polysaccharides, cellulose, lignin, mucilages, gums and peptic substances. Mucilages are used to soothe inflammatory conditions of the mucosa and gastrointestinal tract and provide a protective barrier as well as being mild bulking laxatives. The term ‘mucilage’ is used to refer to compounds that form gelatinous solutions when mixed with water and, as anyone who has ever used Slippery Elm will know, when mixed with water, it can often resemble wallpaper paste!
Slippery Elm can be considered a Prebiotic
A prebiotic is a substance that is neither absorbed nor hydrolysed in the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract. It is fermented by colonies of bacteria in the gut and helps to alter the composition of the gut microbiome.
In my clinic I use Slippery Elm to support management of inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, to ease IBS and to assist the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, especially in the management of health problems that can be triggered by leaky gut syndrome - for example, many skin problems can be triggered by leaky gut syndrome.
The more we learn about the gut microbiome the more we understand how it can affect many different aspects of our health. Listening to Dr Michael Mosley discover that use of a prebiotic helped him with his insomnia in the recent BBC programme ‘The Truth about Sleep’, reminded me of the old herbalists night time beverage of warm milk and Slippery Elm powder. Perhaps it’s time to take another look at this old remedy. I know what I’ll be drinking before bed tonight.