The Magic of Mucilage by Karin Uphoff

A lot can be said for the sogginess of spring – how the rain softens the soil, helps nutrients flow and sink deeper and the way moisture swells and protects lichens and moss. It reminds me of the magic of mucilage in plants.  Mucilage is the slime formed by large polysaccharides (sugars) in plants that form a semi-soluble, viscous fiber in water. In plants, mucilage serves as a mechanism for holding water, as a food storage device, for seed germination and as a membrane thickener and stabilizer. Native plants like
soapwort have so much slippery stuff that – you guessed it – it was used as soap! Mucilaginous herbs are mostly considered building and mending, but they also have an important role in immunity. Our first-response immunity lives in the mucosal cells that line the mouth, eyes, nose, throat and intestines. These specialized cells both absorb nutrients and protect us from toxins and their healthy response is dependent upon sufficient hydration.When I lived in the UK I was astonished that intestinal ailments and allergies were even more common there than in the USA, though dietary habits are generally poor in both countries. The difference was the average 6-8 cups of black tea consumed daily that essentially dehydrates and hardens the intestinal wall with tannic acid. The simple addition of mucilaginous foods like flax seed, along with good water intake could help cultivate the right surface moisture and slippage to assure healthy intestinal flora and proper absorption of nutrients.The ability of large polysaccharides to absorb water causes a bulking and softening effect on stools and relaxes and soothes the gut. This slippery stuff also has the benefit of netting toxins and escorting them out of body. For these purposes, seaweed, apple pectin, marshmallow root, oat bran, ground flax and chia seed have been used in the removal of excess cholesterol, parasites, pathogens, drug residue and radiation that have settled in the bowel. Additionally, mucilage protects the gut against gastric acidity and soothes and protects inflamed or irritated nerve endings in all mucus membranes, which includes all respiratory passages and linings of the kidneys and reproductive organs. Yes, slime is your friend!

In herbal medicine, mucilage-rich herbs and foods are used to treat: sore throat, laryngitis, pharyngitis, gastritis, ulcers, colitis, diverticulitis, food poisoning, high cholesterol, cystitis, bladder infection, prostate enlargement, vaginal dryness, damaged skin-cells, celiac, constipation, bronchitis, pneumonia and pleurisy.

Herbs and foods rich in mucilage are: okra, chia seed, flax seed, psyllium seed, marshmallow leaf and root, common mallow leaf, plantain, comfrey, aloe vera, fenugreek seed, licorice root, slippery elm bark, mullein leaf, sweet violet leaf, oats and seaweed.

If used internally these are called demulcents, if applied externally, they are called emollients. Such herbs can be applied as a skin wash or topical application in cases of hot, red, inflamed or irritated skin. They can also be used in a sitz bath for hemorrhoids or vaginitis or as a drawing poultice for splinters, stings or dirty cuts.

6 comments

  1. PortlandChic · · Reply

    ever heard of anyone reacting badly to mucilage?
    investigating this as a potential source for my distress… seems i react badly to most of the items on your list.
    i do know that i am quite low in stomach acid and a non-sIGA producer, also seem to have low or underfunctional digestive enzymes (supplements really help)
    have heard that mucilage must be broken down by the proper gut bacteria, any ideas which types are specific to that function? i do regularly take probiotics, which have helped immensely in some ways, but i am still completely intolerant to “high-slime” foods… would love to know what bacteria need to be implemented in order to solve this issue.
    thx for your post, i think it helped me make an important connection

    1. Corners of the Mouth · · Reply

      I would recommend you see a health practitioner who is familiar with a condition called SIBO. The mucilage Karin is discussing helps to feed good bacteria which is helpful for many conditions, but not all. Some people have an overgrowth of this ‘good’ bacteria in the wrong place and when the ‘good’ bacteria is fed with mucilage it causes discomfort. Sorry for the delay in this reply. – Anna

      1. PortlandChic · ·

        thank you, i do believe i have struggled with SIBO for several years. i’d never heard it put quite like that before “good bacteria in the wrong places” but it would seem to make sense.
        while i still do not tolerate mucilage well, i am maybe a bit less sensitive to it than a year ago and also *hopefully* resolved the SIBO. whats helped the most was several rounds of Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE), supported longterm by acidic ferments/probiotics and supplementary HCL + broad spectrum digestive enzymes.
        i have naturally low stomach acid. i wonder if that specifically contraindicates high mucilage foods? with or without SIBO a factor.

      2. Corners of the Mouth · ·

        Low stomach acid allows SIBO or other intestinal malfunctions to occur. Mucilage is bad for SIBO, but good for most of the other intestinal malfunctions that may be caused by low stomach acid. You can call Corners Tuesday – Friday afternoon at 707-937-5345 to speak to a health consultant. Thanks, Anna

  2. l s price · · Reply

    I would like to see a reply to the previous post as I have just had nausea and stomachs cramps after first use of chia seeds. Others seem to have a similar reaction.

    1. Corners of the Mouth · · Reply

      I would recommend you see a health practitioner who is familiar with a condition called SIBO. The mucilage Karin is discussing helps to feed good bacteria which is helpful for many conditions, but not all. Some people have an overgrowth of this ‘good’ bacteria in the wrong place and when the ‘good’ bacteria is fed with mucilage it causes discomfort. Thanks, Anna

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