11 February 2013

Herbs: Slippery Elm

"What the heck is slippery elm?" is the normal response when I mention this herb.  While it is an uncommon herb, it is a very useful one.

Slippery elm comes from the inner bark of the elm tree, Ulmus rubra.  It is harvested, dried and then powdered.  Unfortunately, the harvesting does damage the tree and if not done correctly, the harvesting will kill the tree.  Commercially, slippery elm comes in bulk powder (the form I use) or as capsules of dried powder.  I know it also comes in tablets, syrup, and lozenges, but I have never tried any of these forms.

Slippery elm, as its name implies, is 'slippery'.  I mix the powder with water, gently cook it, and allow it to cool to form a gelatine-like substance.  The basic recipe is 1 teaspoon of powder in 1/2 cup of water in a small sauce pan and stir. Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until it begins to thicken. Let cool. Give 1 tsp of cooled syrup 1/2 hour before a meal. Cover and refrigerate the rest. (It will be okay for about 7 days.)  It has a earthy smell and taste which some cats do like enough to eat off a spoon.

For other forms of slippery elm, the 1/8 tsp of the powder can be mixed with food, but added water is also needed.  (1/8 tsp is about 1 capsule.)  Most cats do not object to it being added to food.

So what is this stuff good for?  I use it mainly to coat the intestinal tract when it's upset.  Specifically, when  a cat is vomiting or has diarrhea, slippery elm soothes the intestines and helps return the intestines to normal function.  It will not stop diarrhea, but will calm the intestines so that the need for the diarrhea is removed.  (Most diarrhea is caused by something irritating the intestines.)  It also has the appropriate carbohydrates to encourage 'good' bacterial growth in the intestines and can be used as a stool softener.

Other than intestinal problems, another good use is for CRF cats with mouth ulcers.  The slippery elm coats the mouth and makes the ulcers less sore, so a cat will eat.  Obviously, the slippery elm must be given as a decoction, and not mixed in with the food.

Slippery elm is also reported to help with urinary tract infections and open skin wounds.  I have never tried it for these problems because I use other herbs for these problems which I believe would work better.


Barbara said...

If it coats the intestinal tract, it will prevent the absorption of any medication that is given the cat. It is not advisable to use in these circumstances.

L.M. Hornberger said...

"Coat," at least the way I am using it, doesn't mean to create an impenetrable barrier. From what I have seen or read, it doesn't prevent medication or food nutrients from being digested and absorbed, although it may slow down the absorption rate. If that is a concern, then the medication could be given 2-3 hours after the slippery elm to avoid any decreased absorption.

Barbara said...

That is interesting. Thank you for that information.

L.M. Hornberger said...

You're welcome!