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Slippery Elm & Constipation

author image Martina McAtee
Based in Florida, Martina McAtee has been writing health and fitness articles since 2003. She attended Keiser University, graduating with an Associate of Science in nursing. McAtee is currently working toward a master's degree in nursing from Florida Atlantic University.
Slippery Elm & Constipation
Feeling sick. Photo Credit Ana Blazic/iStock/Getty Images

Practitioners have used Ulmus fulva, or slippery elm, as an herbal remedy for thousands of years. Slippery elm contains properties that purportedly help with numerous different ailments including skin conditions, cold symptoms and gastrointestinal upset. Slippery elm may offer some relief from constipation, making it a popular ingredient in laxative teas. If you are considering using this or any other herbal supplement, you should talk with your physician first.

Slippery Elm

Slippery elm is a tree native to North America. It can reach heights of up to 50 feet and has reddish brown or orange branches and flowers that grow in clusters. The bark of the slippery elm has a gummy texture and herbalists use this part of the tree to create salves, teas, lozenges, extracts and poultices. Native Americans have used slippery elm to treat sore throats, cough, diarrhea, constipation, wounds, boils, ulcers, burns and skin inflammation for centuries. The USDA explains that the Omaha-Ponca, Dakota and many other tribes boiled a decoction of slipper elm as a laxative.

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Slippery Elm and Constipation

When people take slippery elm orally, it helps stimulate the nerve endings in the gastrointestinal tract. Drugs.com explains that this may be why it is so useful for constipation and diarrhea. Herbalists commonly use slippery elm as a tea for the treatment of constipation; pouring two cups of boiling water over roughly two tablespoons of powdered bark and steeping for three to five minutes, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Discuss the risks and benefits of using slippery elm before you begin using the supplement.


Slippery Elm does not appear to have any side effects. However, because it coats the digestive tract it can slow down the absorption of other drugs or herbs. To make sure that you fully absorb all herbs or medications, take slippery elm two hours before or after other medications.

Pregnancy and Breast-Feeding

Many women experience constipation during their pregnancy and may wish to use herbal supplements instead of over-the-counter medications. Experts seem divided as to the safety of using slippery elm during pregnancy. The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that though slippery elm is likely safe during pregnancy, the outer bark of the tree has possibly been linked to an increase in the likelihood of miscarriage. If you are a woman who is pregnant or breast-feeding, discuss using slippery elm with your physician before use.


If you choose to use slippery elm, always look for a reputable herbalist or holistic practitioner. If using a laxative tea, look for commercial brands that have to pass higher government standards. The FDA does not test herbal supplements for safety, efficacy or purity. Drugs.com warns that some herbs have contained elements of toxic metals, so you should choose supplements carefully.

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