Licorice is a perennial herb native to southern Europe, Asia and the Mediterranean. It is extensively cultivated in Russia, Spain, Iran and India. It is one of the most popular and widely consumed herbs in the world.
Although many know this herb for its flavoring in candy, licorice contains many health benefits. Ancient cultures on every continent have used licorice, the first recorded use by the Egyptians in the 3rd century BC. The Egyptians and the Greeks recognized the herb's benefits in treating coughs and lung disease. Licorice is the second most prescribed herb in China followed by ginseng, it is suggested for treatment of the spleen, liver and kidney. The Japanese use a licorice preparation to treat hepatitis.
The most common medical use for licorice is for treating upper respiratory ailments including coughs, hoarseness, sore throat, and bronchitis.
The main constituent found in the root is glycyrrhizin. The plant also contains various sugars (to 14%), starches (30%), flavonoids, saponoids, sterols, amino acids, gums, and essential oil. Glycyrrhizin, stimulates the secretion of the adrenal cortex hormone aldosterone.
It can be as effective as codeine, and safer, when used as a cough suppressant. Rhizomes in licorice have a high mucilage content which, when mixed with water or used in cough drops, sooths irritated mucous membranes. The drug also has an expectorant effect which increases the secretion of the bronchial glands. Licorice is an effective remedy for throat irritations, lung congestion, and bronchitis.
Homeopathic use of licorice for gastric irritation dates back to the first century. Today, herbal preparations are used to treat stomach and intestinal ulcers, lower acid levels and coat the stomach wall with a protective gel. Rarely used alone, it is a common component of many herbal teas as mild laxative, a diuretic, and for flatulence. It has also been known to relieve rheumatism and arthritis, regulate low blood sugar, and is effective for Addison's disease. The root extract produces mild estrogenic effects, and it has proven useful in treating symptoms of menopause, regulating menstruation, and relieving menstrual cramps.
The main ingredient glycyrrhizin has also been studied for it's anti-viral properties in the treatment of AIDS. In clinical trials in Japan it prevented progression of the HIV virus by inhibiting cell infection and inducing interferon activity. Glycyrrhizin also encourages the production of hormones such as hydrocortisone which give it anti-inflammatory properties. Like cortisone it can relieve arthritic and allergy symptoms, without the side effects.
The constituent glycyrrhizin is 50 times sweeter than sugar, making it a widely used ingredient in the food industry. The distinctive flavor of licorice makes it a popular additive to baked confections, liqueurs, ice cream and candies. It is also widely used in other medicines to mask bitter tastes and also to prevent pills from sticking together.
Licorice has also been used in poultices for treatment of dermatitis and skin infections. It helps to open the pores and is used in combination with other cleansing and healing herbs as an emollient.
Part Used: Root in the making of powder, teas and tonics, extracts, tinctures and decoctions.
Common Use: It is an ingredient in many cough medicines and a popular and well-known remedy for bronchial distress. Can have a beneficial effect on gastric disturbances.
Care: Licorice grows best in a dry and warm climate. Prefers sandy, rich soil and full sun.
Toxicity: May cause side effects in healthy people. May cause headaches, elevated blood pressure, hypertension, lethargy, edema, or shortness of breath.