Herbalist Lingo

Demulcent

de·mul·cent

ADJECTIVE

  1. (of a substance) relieving inflammation or irritation.

NOUN

  1. a substance that relieves irritation of the mucous membranes by forming a protective film

 

"Demulcent" is common term for herbalists, but maybe not so common for the every day folk. 

What is a demulcent?

Plants that contain demulcent properties soothe internal membranes which line areas inside of the body.  We have mucous membranes that line the organs, and pathways and tracts of the body. Think of these tissues as our "inner skin".  Examples of these tissues include inside the nose,  mouth, esophagus, stomach, uterus and urinary tract. Just like our outer skin, our mucous membranes may get inflamed or irritated during times of injury, illness, and disease.  Luckily, we have plants to protect, revitalize and soothe these areas of the human body. 

How do these plants soothe?  

Plant mucilage is a thick, viscous substance that typically contains complex sugars and protein.  Nearly all plants contain mucilage to some degree.  And plants need mucilaginous material for protection, nutrient storage, seed germination, and to thicken membranes.  We humans can use this mucilage the same way.  Using plant mucilage on our tissues can certainly help cool and protect, and nourish problematic areas back to health.

According to the book "Medical Herbalism", demulcents help prevent and ease diarrhea, ease coughing, reduce irritation along the whole length of the bowel, lessen the sensitivity of the digestive system, and help relax painful spasms of the bladder and urinary system. 

Demulcent Plants

Althea officinalis, Marshmallow

The queen of all demulcents, Marshmallow Root has an abundance of mucilage.  And it is considered an excellent demulcent for almost all areas of the body, but specifically the digestive tract, lungs, and urinary tract.  Many herbalists talk of Althea being greatly under-appreciated.  On top of it's strong demulcent properties, Marshmallow root is considered highly anti-microbial, hypoglycemic (lowers blood sugar), and an expectorant. 

Glycyrrhiza glabra, Licorice Root

The demulcent qualities of Licorice Root soothe tissues of the digestive and respiratory system.  It has the power to soothe ulcers, abdominal colic, and diarrhea.  Licorice is also an ally during times of respiratory infection and illness.  It lessens irritation of coughs, sore throat and soothes inflammation of the lung tissue.  Licorice is also a liver protectant and a mild laxative. 

Ulmus rubra, Slippery Elm

The inner bark of the Slippery Elm tree is considered a soothing and nutritive demulcent.  A perfect herb for excess heat of the digestive system, it will help symptoms of gastritis, diarrhea, ulcers and many other "-itis" issues of the digestive system.  Slippery Elm has been used by many native peoples for medicine and food, for centuries.  It was an important source of energy for hunters and gatherers when supplies were scarce.  Slipper Elm is mild yet nutritious, making this a great herb during times of illness and healing.   

 

Plants with this healing demulcent quality are best taking as a cold infusion.  Please refer back to the beginnings of this blog to find the post on Cold Infusions. Happy Monday!