Demulcent Herbs - A Beginner's Guide

Demulcent Herbs: Unlocking Their Potential for Gut Health & Beyond

Demulcent herbs are a special and unique class of herbal gut-healing, lung-loving herbal allies worth getting to know (if you haven’t already!). 

In this article we’ll explore what demulcent herbs are, the different types available, their benefits and uses, where to find them, how to take them, the best delivery methods, possible side effects and contraindications, and some ideas on how you can try them (with general standard dosing guidelines). And for my fellow health enthusiasts, I’ve also dropped links to some additional resources for further exploration. 😎

Let’s dive in!

Disclaimer: This article was written for educational purposes only, not to be taken as medical advice! Always consult a qualified healthcare practitioner for guidance around choosing the best herbs and supplements for your individual needs.

Affiliate disclosure: This post contains affiliate links* for herbs and books that I love and have found helpful.  As an affiliate for Starwest Botanicals* (for certain organic demulcent herbal supplements) and as an Amazon Associate (for certain books), I may make a small commission on qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you! 

Table of Contents

What are demulcent herbs?

In my world of functional nutrition and clinical herbalism, demulcent herbs are a class of herbs known for their mucilaginous, lubricating polysaccharide constituents – which happen to be very soothing for dry, inflamed tissues of the body. 

This is because they naturally form a lubricating, protective coating over mucous membranes (such as in your throat, digestive tract, skin, respiratory system, etc…). 

This special lubricating effect of demulcent herbs is what helps to alleviate irritation, inflammation, and dryness, providing you with much-needed relief and supporting the healing process – specifically for the mucous membranes of the body.

Demulcent herbal energetics

From a constitutional standpoint, most types of demulcents generally tend to be cooling and moistening/lubricating (versus heating or drying) to the tissues of the body.  

Demulcents are usually not the best choice for somebody with a “wet cough” or for people with cystic fibrosis (a condition in which the tissues of the lungs and gut produce excessive amounts of mucus) – since the mucilage would amplify and worsen those constitutional imbalances of too much dampness in the body.

General benefits and uses

Demulcent herbs offer a wide array of benefits and can be used in various ways to support your well-being! 

While each type of demulcent has something special and unique to offer, they all share some common ground! As you’ll soon notice, all types of mucilaginous herbs well discuss in this article tend to be:

  • Prebiotic
  • Antioxidant and anti-inflamamtory
  • Soothing for a sore throat or dry cough
  • Wound-healing
  • Protective and therapeutic for an inflamed/leaky gut

Still, when it comes to herbal medicine, even when working with a class of herbs that share similar properties and overlapping benefits, one size never fits all! (It’s always important to consider bio-individuality.)  

Getting to know 6 popular demulcent herbs

Let’s now take a deeper dive into what makes each of the following demulcent/mucilaginous herbs unique in terms of its research-backed benefits and safety considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis)
  2. Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  3. Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis) inner leaf juice
  4. Slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra)
  5. Prickly pear (nopal) cactus pads (Opuntia ficus indica mill)
  6. Plantain leaves (Plantago major)

Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis)

Marshmallow is a perennial herb that has been used for ages in natural remedies. It’s native to Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa but is now famous worldwide, due to its exceptionally high mucilage content – especially in the roots.

Traditional uses

In traditional folk herbalism and in clinical herbalism, people have turned to marshmallow root to find relief from coughs, sore throats, and digestive troubles – since the mucilage contained within the roots has soothing and protective properties – with an affinity for the mucous membranes of the body. 

For the above reasons, clinical herbalists will often include marshmallow root in lung formulas and gut-healing tea.

Marshmallow root has also been said to have anti-inflammatory effects, making it a nice potential ally for soothing irritated skin topically. 

Research-backed benefits

Clinical studies within the last 5 years have uncovered that marshmallow root is likely prebiotic, anti-inflammatory, soothing for a sore throat or for an ulcerated gut, and even antimicrobial in some cases!

Prebiotic

The mucilage in marshmallow root is said to be prebiotic – aka feeding and supporting the growth of healthy “probiotic” microbes in the body. (1)

Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory

Marshmallow root seems to exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, potentially reducing inflammation in the body by neutralizing harmful free radicals and protecting cells from damage. (2)

Soothing for a sore throat or cough 

Marshmallow root’s mucilage can help soothe and protect the mucous membranes, potentially offering relief for conditions like sore throat and cough. (2)

Protective and healing for the gut

Marshmallow root may also provide relief for gastrointestinal problems, such as heartburn, stomach ulcers, and/or peptic ulcers, by reducing gastric acid and creating a protective coating to soothe and lubricate raw, inflamed mucous membranes in the gut. (2, 3)

Antimicrobial 

Marshmallow root extract has demonstrated antimicrobial activity in several different studies, suggesting its potential in combating certain infections – or even possibly dysbiosis. (2, 4)

My first-hand clinical observations

I’ve noticed in my private functional nutrition practice that marshmallow root seems to really help reduce pain for people with gastritis/colitis, dry cough, and heartburn.  It’s also been a nice ally for lubricating the gut lining and softening stools for some of my clients with constipation.

However, I’ve noticed that taking too much marshmallow root (“too much” = relative to each individual) seems to actually result in long, skinny bowel movements.  Clinically, that indicates that too much mucilage could potentially be making the feces sticky, causing some of the poop to stick to the walls of the colon instead of coming out. (I know… YUCK!)

  • A “complete” healthy bowel movement should be about the diameter of a peeled or unpeeled banana!

I’ve also noticed that when somebody is presenting with constipation, but they actually have methane SIBO, marshmallow root will make them more gassy and bloated. 

  • If this has happened to you or a client, consider running a SIBO test if you haven’t already!

All in all, although more research is required to confirm its effectiveness, marshmallow root (in the right amount) seems to be promising as a natural remedy for inflammatory respiratory ailments and various types of digestive disorders.

Contraindications & safety concerns 

Marshmallow root is generally very safe, with little to no side effects – as long as you’re getting it from a trusted source. However, there are a few things to keep in mind!

May reduce medication absorption

Marshmallow root may interfere with the absorption of certain medications, so don’t take it at the same time as thyroid medication or certain other types of medications/supplements that need to be taken on an empty stomach.

May trigger or worsen symptoms of SIBO

Due to its high mucilage, which can cause microbial fermentation in the intestines specifically, I’ve noticed in clinical practice (and confirmed via continuing education) that marshmallow root (like all other types of demulcent herbs) may worsen symptoms in cases of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)

Too much could make stools “sticky”

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve noticed in my private practice that too much marshmallow root seems to cause long skinny bowel movements which is a sign of functional stool impaction.

How to take it

If you love tea, and/or you’re targeting upper gastrointestinal issues (such as heartburn or gastritis), try simmering some organic dried marshmallow root* into an herbal tea decoction, or steep it passively in cold water as a marshmallow root cold infusion.

  • Enjoy 1 to 4 cups of marshmallow root tea decoction or cold infusions daily (or as directed by your practitioner), on an empty stomach, at least 20-30 minutes before a meal, or at least 2-3 hours after a meal.

Or if you’re taking marshmallow root to help lubricate and soothe a dry and/or inflamed colon (such as in cases of constipation, or Crohn’s disease, or colitis), you may be better off taking organic marshmallow root capsules*.

  • Take 1 to 2 capsules 1 to 3x daily (on an empty stomach, at least 20-30 minutes before a meal, or at least 2-3 hours after a meal) or as directed by your practitioner.

Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

While licorice (like marshmallow) is most well known in the United States for being a timeless candy, it’s much more than just a sweet treat!  

The naturally sweet roots of the licorice plant, which happen to contain very powerful medicinal flavonoids and other constituents, have been renowned and used in medicinal practices for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as in Indian Ayurvedic medicine, ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, and the West (during the Former Han era).

Licorice root is also popular in modern-day western clinical herbalism and folk herbalism for a multitude of reasons!

Traditional uses

For hundreds (if not thousands) of years, licorice has been used to aid in everything from adrenal fatigue to coughs and bronchitis, to inflammatory conditions (such as inflammatory bowel disease) to allergies, leaky gut syndrome, and even liver support.

But are these claims legit? 

Research-backed benefits

Thankfully, research is now catching up. Just in the last 5 years, dozens of new research has come out to confirm what our ancestors already knew, thanks to ancient plant wisdom. (5)

Lung-supporting

A 2021 comprehensive review on all things licorice root concluded that licorice can be a helpful plant ally for people with asthma, bronchitis, or other types of dry cough. (5)

Liver-protective

The 2021 comprehensive review also concluded that licorice root is indeed “hepatoprotective” – meaning it helps protect the liver from damage. (5)

Anti-candida

Licorice has been referred to as a type of antimicrobial herb (anecdotally) for centuries.  As it turns out, this is conditionally true – in certain cases! 

The “methanolic” extracts in licorice has been clinically shown to be very effective at preventing the overgrowth of Candida albicans, a common opportunistic microbe (good in small amounts, harmful in large amounts) that lives in every human gut, and can wreak havoc when it grows out of control. (5)

Gut-healing

The mucilage and polysaccharides in licorice root, combined with its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory constituents, make licorice one of the top 39 noteworthy herbs for leaky gut!

More specifically, licorice root and “deglycyrrhizinated” licorice “ (DGL) – aka licorice root with the blood pressure-raising constituents removed – have both been clinically shown to help remedy ulcers and gastritis. (6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory

Licorice root contains a variety of special antioxidants, which can help to protect us from damage and inflammation on the cellular level. (10)

According to research, the anti-inflammatory constituents in licorice root work by up-regulating (or modulating) our immune response in ways that reduce certain types of mediators (chemicals which trigger inflammation) in the blood. (10)

Prebiotic

Research has confirmed that licorice is one of many types of prebiotic herbs, meaning it feeds and supports the growth of healthy “probiotic” microbes in the gut. (11, 12

  • This is likely due to the polysaccharides in the mucilage!
Prokinetic

Licorice is a natural prokinetic herb, meaning it helps to stimulate healthier gut motility in the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract. (13)

I often include licorice in constipation protocols for this reason! You’ll also see licorice root as a key ingredient in certain types of prokinetic herbal supplements such as GutGuard and Iberogast.

My own experiences/insights

I usually take one of these organic licorice root capsules* in the morning, Monday through Friday, while drinking my coffee, before breakfast.  It’s an ally which helps me to stay in remission from IBS-M (alongside other diet & lifestyle practices, of course!).

I’ve also noticed that when I take licorice root I also seem to have more energy and stamina. 

  • I was taught in clinical herbalism that licorice root may help nourish the adrenals and support recovery from burnout, anecdotally – and while I couldn’t find research to back up that claim, I experienced these outcomes first-hand!

Fun fact: Both of my dogs also get one of these organic licorice root capsules* (and an organic echinacea root capsule*) broken open and sprinkled onto their breakfast Monday through Friday, per the recommendations of Dr. Randy Kidd, DVM, Ph.D.* (I’m a crazy dog mama, ya’ll! Only the best for my babies. This regimen has been especially helpful for when they’re restoring gut health after a round of antibiotic.) 

Contraindications & safety concerns 

As a demulcent herb, licorice root and DGL have the potential to trigger or worsen symptoms of SIBO.

  • Avoid BOTH licorice and DGL if you have SIBO.  
  • Discontinue taking licorice/DGL (and consult your healthcare team about running a SIBO breath test) if you find that these herbs make you more gassy/bloated.
  • Avoid licorice root if you have blood pressure issues, high potassium, kidney disease, kidney stones, or you take birth control pills – since it can potentially interact with all of these.

How to take it

For convenience purposes and for the prebiotic benefits, if licorice root is safe for you to take, I recommend taking an organic licorice root capsule* 1x/day (or as instructed by your healthcare practitioner) on an empty stomach. 

If you’re prone to high blood pressure (or taking blood pressure altering medication). or if you’re taking an oral contraceptive (birth control pill), you should stick with DGL (the deglycyrrhizinated form of licorice), since it won’t raise blood pressure levels significantly. 

General dose:  Take 1 capsule or 1/8 -1/4 teaspoon of DGL powder, 1 to 4x daily (or as prescribed by your healthcare provider.) 

Consult a qualified healthcare practitioner for customized recommendations tailored to your individual needs.

Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis)

Recognized for its cooling and soothing properties, certain parts of aloe vera can be consumed internally or applied topically to soothe and heal irritated skin and mucous membranes.

Traditional uses

Most of us are familiar with aloe vera as a topical gel for soothing a sunburn. And while this sorta goes without saying, it works well!

But what about taking aloe vera internally? (As ancient Swiss physician, alchemist and philosopher Paracelsus once said, “As within, so without...”)  In other words, the gut is essentially our ‘inner skin’ – so it would make sense in theory that herbs benefiting the outer skin may also support the gut lining. 

Needless to say, lots of people have been leaning on aloe vera juice as a modern-day trend, in efforts to combat gut issues such as heartburn and colitis.  But is this legit?

Research-backed benefits

Emollient

Topically, it’s pretty well established that aloe vera gel is a topical “emollient” – aka soothing and healing to the skin, and especially for sunburnt skin. 

More recently, aloe vera gel has also been deemed beneficial for supporting wound-healing – likely due to its cooling, mucilaginous actions on the inflamed tissue. (14)

Gut-healing

At this time, there aren’t a LOT of studies to confirm that aloe is safe and beneficial for gut health when taken internally. However, there are a few!

  • A 2004 double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that compared to a placebo group, participants with ulcerative colitis who supplemented with aloe vera gel (100 milliliters 2x/day) for 4 weeks showed a significant decrease in “Simple Clinical Colitis Activity Index and histological scores” which measured the degree of tissue damage in the colon. (15)
  • A more recent study conducted in 2020 by Clinical nutrition research confirmed that aloe vera seemed to have protective and therapeutic effects on the gut lining of rats with colitis. (16)
  • Another 2020 study published by the Middle East journal of digestive issues had a very similar conclusion: aloe vera was able to successfully improve symptoms and overall outcomes in rats with colitis. (17)
  • A meta-analysis from 2018 also concluded that in most cases, aloe vera is generally “safe and effective” as a complementary alternative medicinal component of IBS treatment. (18)

However, the downside is that the latex in aloe vera gel can have pretty bad laxative effects and other potential adverse reactions in some people. (19)

All in all, it’s looking promising so far – but we still need some more human studies to get details on dosing, safety contraindications, etc! 😉 

My first-hand experiences/insights

When I was navigating IBS-M and chronic heartburn back in 2011, I used to take shots of aloe vera leaf juice in efforts to resolve my symptoms and protect my esophagus from erosion. 

  • While I didn’t experience any adverse side effects, I also didn’t get much relief – because I was in need of a holistic,multi-dimensional protocol for gut repair, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know at the time. 😉
    • Sadly, aloe leaf juice didn’t work as a stand-alone intervention for me!

However, in my private functional nutrition practice, some of my clients with gastritis/colitis have found relief supplementing with 1 tablespoon of aloe vera juice mixed in ~8 ounces of water, up to 4-8 times per day. 

Another one of my clients has reported that when he drinks smoothies with aloe vera inner leaf powder* added in, his stomach always feels very calm and pain-free (compared to the usual baseline of feeling irritated).

Unfortunately one of my clients ordered aloe vera leaf juice on Amazon from a third-party seller (since she doesn’t live near a health food store) and her experience was that it looked and tasted like plain water. So I don’t recommend buying aloe juice on Amazon unless it’s directly through a company’s official Amazon store.

Contraindications & safety concerns 

Like all other types of mucilaginous herbs, aloe vera may exacerbate symptoms of SIBO (i.e. gas or bloating).  Avoid taking even the best quality aloe vera supplements internally if you have SIBO or suspect SIBO.

It’s also very important not to take the gel internally, as this can potentially cause laxative side effects and other adverse reactions.

Lastly, make sure you’re purchasing aloe vera juice or aloe vera inner leaf capsules from a reputable source and not from third-party sellers on Amazon!

How to take it

Make sure you’re consuming the inner leaf juice, but NOT the whole leaf extract or the gel!  And always consult a qualified practitioner for customized recommendations tailored to your individual needs. 

General recommendations:

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Slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra)

Traditional uses

This popular demulcent herb has been used by indigenous people in the United States as a natural remedy for coughs and digestive issues.

Research-backed benefits

Prebiotic

Much like licorice root, slippery elm bark contains prebiotic constituents, according to the Journal of complementary and alternative medicine. (11)

Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory

Much like marshmallow and licorice root, slippery elm bark has antioxidant properties and may help alleviate symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) by supporting a healthier gut lining. (20)

In combination with other herbs, slippery elm has also demonstrated supportive anti-inflammatory activity in inflamed tonsils, according to a 2017 study. (21)

Potentially gut-healing

Last but not least, slippery elm has made the cut as one of the top 39 herbs for leaky gut!  

While I don’t work with this herb a lot in my clinic (due to its endangered plant status), research has demonstrated that slippery elm can help to alleviate unwanted digestive symptoms while improving intestinal permeability (aka “leaky gut”), reducing the need for proton pump inhibitors (like Prilosec), improving the gut microbiome, and even helping participants to “gain back” foods they previously could not tolerate.

Contraindications & safety concerns 

The contraindications of slippery elm overlap with other demulcent herbs in that it may trigger symptoms of SIBO, and like marshmallow root, slippery elm could potentially reduce the absorption of other medications if taken at the same time.

Again, I encourage you to consider working with other types of demulcent herbs, since slippery elm is at risk of extinction due to over-harvesting.

How to take it

While slippery elm is clinically effective for lots of different digestive issues, it’s important to acknowledge a growing concern: it’s been over-harvested for the last few decades, and it is now sadly at risk of extinction in the wild as an endangered plant species.

As an herbalist, I value sustainability and ethical harvesting practices. That said, I’m choosing not to encourage or promote the use of slippery elm bark as a demulcent herb, since it’s at risk of extinction and there are clearly so many other options available in abundance.

Please don’t harvest this plant if you find it in the wild, and consider working with a different type of demulcent herb with overlapping benefits!

Prickly pear “nopal” cactus pads (Opuntia spp.)

Prickly pear, aka “nopal” cactus, is a local plant ally near and dear to my heart!  (Living in central Texas, I see this plant growing in abundance almost everyday – both in the wild and in people’s yards.)

It grows natively in southwestern parts of the U.S. as well as Mexico, and as a cuisine it dates all the way back to Aztec culture.

While it looks prickly on the outside, the inside of this plant’s cactus pads are slimy and mucilaginous. The fruits are also edible and make great additions to juices!

Traditional uses

In Mexico and in Texas, nopal cactus pads (aka “nopales”) are a nutritional delicacy! Nopales are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  They can go great with scrambled eggs, stews, stir fry dishes, salads, and tacos. 

Aside from being a nutritious addition to omelets and tacos, in Mexico and in western folk herbalism, nopal cactus pad juice is also the go-to for people with diabetes to help balance blood sugar and insulin levels naturally.

From a first-aid standpoint, topically, herbalists such as Sam Coffman recommend applying the demulcent inner parts of prickly pear cactus pads onto a wound (to help aid in wound-healing) and even to help with splinters.  

  • While I’ve thankfully never had to try this, I’m grateful to be surrounded by nopal cacti just in case!

Research-backed benefits

Nutrient-dense

In addition to being naturally mucilaginous, researchers have uncovered that prickly pear nopal cactus is also very high in nutrients like vitamins, polyunsaturated fatty acids, amino acids and polyphenols (a type of antioxidant). (22)

(Read more on my top 15 favorite nutritive herbs, here!)

Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory

Research is uncovering that the polyphenols and other types of antioxidants in nopal cactus can potentially help to support people with metabolic syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, acne, and lots of other inflammatory health conditions. (22, 23)

High in fiber & potentially gut-healthy

For healthy digestion, adult females need about 20-25 grams of total fiber per day, and adult males need about 25-38 grams of total fiber per day.  

  • The cactus pads of nopales contain about 3.3 grams of fiber per 1 cup cooked serving (24) so they are generally considered a high food source of fiber. 

Whether it’s the fiber or prebiotics or the mucilage (or all of them), this special type of cactus may even potentially be a wonderful ally for folks with IBS!

  • A small study found that people with IBS (regardless of the sub-type) who received a daily dose of fiber from prickly pear cactus reported noticeably improved symptoms compared to the placebo group. (25
  • A recent Gut and liver randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study also found that IBS symptoms improved among people who took a combination of Opuntia humifusa with a probiotic strain called “Lactobacillus paracasei DKGF1”, which as prebiotics and probiotics together, make a “symbiotic” supplement. (26)
Anti-diabetic

In Mexico, the juice of these demulcent cactus pads is actually given as a first-level clinical intervention for people with diabetes, multiple times a day – in place of Metformin! 

The blood sugar improving benefits of prickly pear cactus have been supported by a 2014 study  and a 2022 review which endorsed Opuntia as a functional food for people with type 2 diabetes and/or metabolic syndrome. (27, 28)

A 2019 study found that both the whole plant and its mucilage helped to improve blood pressure, triglycerides, and other metabolic parameters in rats that were fed a high-fructose diet. (29)

(Fun fact: the majority of clinical studies to support the use of nopal cactus pad juice for blood sugar balance and insulin resistance are written in Spanish, so the United States is not yet up to speed on this.) 😉

Given this plant’s potential ability to support gut health and modulate and normalize our insulin response, I believe nopal cactus could also potentially make a wonderful herbal ally for women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) who may have insulin resistance, leaky gut syndrome, and/or gut microbial imbalances.

Still, more research is needed to better understand this plant’s unique mechanisms and long-term actions / benefits in the body!

Contraindications & safety concerns 

While this herb is technically untested by Monash University, it’s likely high in FODMAPs and not recommended for people following a low FODMAP diet.

How to take it

Okay, so I totally understand most people reading this aren’t going to have access to fresh nopal cactus pads (which are usually only available in local markets in regions where they grow locally).

If you’re looking to reap the benefits of this special demulcent plant (i.e. if you’re prone to insulin resistance, leaky gut, and gut microbial imbalances), I recommend trying out organic nopal cactus pad powder*.  

General recommended dose: ½ teaspoon to 1 tablespoon, 1 to 3x daily (consult a qualified healthcare practitioner for custom recommendations tailored to your individual needs!)

A few creative culinary ways to give this a whirl:

  • Add it into a smoothie. (Warning: it adds a thick consistency and grainy texture, so start small and work your way up!)
  • Add it to oatmeal, overnight oats, or chia pudding.
  • Blend it into a milkshake with a GI-friendly milk or milk substitute of your choice.

Plantain leaf (Plantago major)

This demulcent common weed (originally from Europe) is one that you may or may not find growing in your yard – and no, it’s not the same plant as the plantain fruits that look like bananas. 😉  

Its leaves grow in rosettes, with vertical veins and fine hairs that resemble the villa (tiny hairs) which line the lungs and intestines – an interesting plant signature worth noting!

Traditional uses

In folk herbalism, our ancestors have leaned on plantain leaves for centuries (if not millenia) to help ail a sore throat, soothe a cough, promote wound healing, treat ulcers, and more. (30)

Research-backed benefits

As it turns out, ancestral wisdom prevails yet again!  Research has uncovered that lots of the traditional uses of plantain leaves are legit.

Most recently, a 2017 review concluded that “Plantago major is effective as a wound healer, as well as an antiulcerative, antidiabetic, antidiarrhoeal, anti-inflammatory, antinociceptive, antibacterial, and antiviral agent.” (31

While more research is needed to better understand the unique mechanisms and benefits of plantain leaves, it’s safe to say plant wisdom is real, and our ancestors seemed to know what they were doing!

Contraindications and side-effects

Plantian leaf is generally safe for most people, with the exception of those with SIBO in which case plantian leaf, as a demulcent herb, may or may not trigger or worsen symptoms of gas/bloating.  (When in doubt, consult a practitioner and listen to your body!)

How to take it

There are lots of ways to enjoy and reap the benefits of plantain as a demulcent herbal ally!

Fresh:  if you’re lucky enough to find some fresh plantain leaves in your yard like we do each spring, consider harvesting some and sprinkling them into your next salad!

Dried:  Consider including plantain in a gut healing tea recipe, or infuse ~1 tablespoon of organic dried plantain leaves* in ~12-16 ounces of water an herbal tea infusion – and enjoy one to three 8-oz. cups daily, as needed.

Encapsulated:  Plaintain leaf capsules aren’t widely available as single herbs; however, you can find plantain leaf in certain targeted combination herbal formulas such as:

(FYI – the Gaia herbal blends listed above are all available via my private online dispensary on FullScript, for a lifetime discount of 15% off!)

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How NOT to take demulcent herbs

Much like nutritive herbs, the mucilaginous polysaccharides in demulcent herbs aren’t well extracted in alcohol.  That said, generally speaking, a tincture isn’t going to be the most efficient and effective way to reap the benefits of demulcent herbs!  (The best delivery methods for demulcent herbs include tea infusions, tea decoctions, syrups, powders, or capsules.)

As a friendly reminder, you may also want to steer clear of demulcents if you have (or suspect) SIBO. And always consult your healthcare providers for specific recommendations.

More resources

If you found this article helpful, and you’d like to learn more about the wonderful world of herbal medicine and/or gut health, consider checking out the following articles:

Final thoughts

Modern-day research is just beginning to uncover and confirm what our ancestors have known for centuries (if not millenia) about the many benefits of mucilaginous, demulcent herbs.

Alas, at this point in time it’s safe to say that demulcents such as marshmallow root, licorice root, aloe vera (inner leaf), nopal cactus pads, plantain leaf, can potentialy make wonderful allies for those suffering from a cough, sore throat, bronchitis, ulcerative / inflammatory gut issues, and skin cuts/scrapes.

While slippery elm bark is also considered a demulcent herb with research-backed benefits, I recommend exploring one of the other options whenever possible, for the sake of preserving this endangered plant species and protect it from over-harvesting.

Generally speaking, the best delivery methods for taking demulcent herbs (to extract the mucilage) would be via a tea, syrup, or capsules versus an herbal tincture.

Demulcent herbs are generally very safe, but there are several major safety concerns, especicially in cases of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) since the polysacchrides tend to exacerbate symptoms by feeding the microbes in the small intestine.  Anyone considering trying demulcents should also proceed with extra caution before taking licorice root (which raises blood pressure).

Last but not least, always make sure to consult your healthcare team before embarking on an herbal medicine journey!

XO – Jenna

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