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.