Delectable Demulcents

| March 7, 2013 | 0 Comments

It is always pleasant when something that is good for you turns out to taste good, as well. Reminded of this as I sucked on a throat lozenge, I noticed that the label on the box included a single-word, old-fashioned definition of the herbal action: “Demulcent.” It is no surprise that the label used an old term, since the text also bragged about the company producing their product since 1847. At that time, customers would have understood that this demulcent product, made from slippery elm bark (Albus rubra) was good to sooth sore throats, irritable stomachs, inflamed bladders and any damaged mucus membrane. Since an infestation of Dutch elm disease nearly wiped out all the elm trees in this country, slippery elm is not as widely used as it once was. Fortunately, it is only one of a large class of herbs that are demulcent.

Other plants with similar action include marshmallow root, cinnamon bark, licorice root, linden leaf and a variety of seeds such as flax, chia and fenugreek. What they all have in common is a richness of poly-saccharides (complex starches) that form a soothing and healing gel coating on tissues to protect, heal, seal and reduce inflammation as well as pain. And the starches are slightly sweet in flavor, making them useful in foods and beverages. If that isn’t enough, they also improve gut function, blood glucose, cholesterol levels, and nutrition.

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) probably prompts you to think of a sweet confection suitable for roasting over a campfire. And, you would be correct in thinking this. The mucilaginous root of the marshmallow was cooked into a gelatinous candy by pharmacists who “hid” medicinal herbs in the formula for children’s prescriptions. This made it easier for the child to comply with taking medicine and was also part of the therapeutic action. Today’s marshmallow candies are made with a gelatin-sugar mix and don’t have the same benefits. Since we don’t live near any of the kinds of marshes that support the marshmallow plant, we can substitute the roots of other mallow-type plants in the family: hollyhock, lavatera, blue mallow and even the lowly malva weeds that grow in our gardens. Look for malva in shampoo being used to sooth scalp problems.

Cinnamon bark (cinnamomum verum) will create a soothing gel, if soaked in cool water for several hours. This soluble fiber is part of how it helps to balance blood glucose levels for diabetics. It binds with bile salts to take LDL cholesterol out of the body and slows the absorption of sugars into the blood stream. Even though it is spicy and warming, it reduces inflammation in the gut, in the joints and even inside the blood vessels.

Licorice root is so revered for its powerful healing action that Linden leaf tea(TCM) includes it in nearly every herbal formula. It calms, nourishes and heals in a way that enhances the other herbs in the mix. Licorice root is so sweet that it was used as a sugar substitute prior to the invention of artificial sweeteners.

The seeds of flax, chia, fenugreek and psyllium are well-known in the kitchen and commonly used for treating bowel irritations and gastro-intestinal imbalances. Put any of these seeds to soak in water and you will soon have a perfect demulcent to use for burns, rashes, and scrapes, as well as providing fiber and “pre-biotics” that promote the growth of “friendly” bacteria. I like to use these seeds to thicken home-made salad dressings so my salads are even healthier for me.

The word “demulcent” derives from a Latin base “mulcere” that means to sooth, smooth and caress. So next time someone around you get irate, instead of telling them to “go chill” you can tell them to “demulce out.”  Then hand them a cup of demulcent Linden leaf tea.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Category: Health & Fitness

About the Author ()