What are Demulcent Herbs? | Seed Sistas What are Demulcent Herbs? | Seed Sistas | Herbal Evolutions Cultivating Change

What are Demulcent Herbs?

By the Seed SistAs

When you see that a herb is demulcent, it is a plant action ascribed to that herb.  Herbal actions mainly describe the way a herb affects the body, but you can bring emotional or spiritual actions into this category as well.  Scientifically speaking of course, the focus is on the body, including the nervous and endocrine systems.  An action will often be attributed to one or more compounds in the plant but it’s not always as simple or clear cut as that. What are Demulcent Herbs?

The word “Demulcent” derives from the Latin verb “demulc─ôre,” meaning “to soothe.”  Essentially, that’s what demulcents do, particularly to inflamed mucous membranes in the body.  They are an important part of the herbalists’ range of actions to reach for.  Quite often, before any other action can be taken, the system needs soothing and cooling.  For example, a stuck, mucus cough may be seemingly requiring an expectorant action, but if you push with something heating, like thyme, you could increase inflammation and cause further issue.   By soothing and supporting the tissues first with demulcent herbs, you allow some of the body’s own healing to occur, making expectorant herbs have an easier job. As we will see, demulcent herbs also do a wonderful job of maintaining moisture in the body which can be extremely helpful in hot, dry conditions.

When might you use demulcent herbs?

Demulcent herbs are capable of soothing inflamed or abraded mucous membranes and protecting them from further irritation.  They can aid with…

  • dry, brittle tissues
  • inflammation
  • improving mucous secretion
  • encouraging peristalsis (movement of the bowel) in constipation
  • helping to bind liquid stools in diarrhoea
  • soothing effects of acid burn in the stomach and oesophagus
  • prevent and soothe ulceration
  • calming irritations in the urinary tract and uterus
  • blood sugar regulation
  • as lubrication and skin emollient

How do demulcent herbs work?

Demulcents are rich in carbohydrate mucilage made up of complex polysaccharide molecules.  That’s lots of long words that sound hard to get your head around so let’s break that down. 

Let’s start with carbohydrate mucilage.  Carbohydrates are, just like with human’s, a source of energy for plants.  They are considered primary metabolites, as in they are super important for one of the jobs essential in growth and reproduction of the plant; in this case providing energy for growth.  Mucilage takes up and stores water and nutrients, including macro- and micronutrients, but they also protect against toxic compounds. Secreted mainly by border cells and root cap cells, they protect root during growth in the soil by maintaining moisture.   The production of seed and fruit mucilages ensures adequate hydration of these plant organs as well.   This is especially important in desert environments. As well as maintaining hydration, mucilages play a role in maintaining water and oxygen in seed tissues.  We can see why this would encourage a moistening and maintaining of moisture in a human too referring back to demulcent herb’s support in unquenchable thirst.

Mucilage is a slimy carbohydrate made up of polysaccharides – ‘poly’ meaning many, ‘saccharides’ meaning sugars.  These are long chains of sugars. 

Polysaccharides contra to what instinctually it sounds like, can actually improve insulin resistance and blood sugar regulation.  Long chain sugars do not work in the same way as disaccharides and monosaccharides found in various forms in refined sugars.  Where these single and double sugar molecules directly spike insulin, polysaccharides are much harder for the body to break down and so do not ‘spike insulin’.  In addition to this ,through pharmacological studies, it has been suggested that herb polysaccharides actually restore the functions of pancreatic tissues (responsible for releasing insulin) causing an increase in insulin output by the functional beta cells (β-cell), thus lowering the blood what are demulcent herbsglucose levels.

So this slimy compound forms, notably when the plant part is soaked. It doesn’t matter if the water is hot or cold, the mucilage will eventually be produced.  We make flaxseed crackers where the mucilaginous compounds are the sole binder.  As we soak the seeds, a slimy, jelly-like substance forms.  We add salt and other additions like seaweed or sun dried tomatoes.  We then spread these out onto baking parchment and dehydrate.

Which herbs for which system?

There is much crossover between the demulcent herbs as to a degree they will act on all of the systems discussed because of the mechanisms involved. However, some have a special affinity with certain areas of the physical body.

Demulcent herbs for the digestive tract:

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) – especially the root, liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), flax (Linium usitatissimum),  slippery elm (Ulmus fulva), oats (Avena sativa), Psyllium (Plantago ovata)

Demulcents for the respiratory tract:

(Plantago lanceolata), mullein (Verbascum thapsus), marshmallow (Althea officinalis) – especially the root, liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Lime flower (Tilia spp.), Violet (Violeta odorata)

Demulcents for blood sugar regulation:What are Demulcent Herbs?

Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra),  Marshmallow (Althea officinalis)

Demulcents for irritation in the urinary tract and uterus:

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) – especially the leaf, Cornsilk (Zea mays),

Emollient herbs for the skin:

Plantain (Plantago major), Comfrey (Symphytum officinale), (Althea officinalis), Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis), oats (Avena sativa)


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