[Herbal Rootlets]: No. 83 – Lavish Licorice

We’re like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.’

– Jerry Garcia

When you think of Licorice, a black colored candy may come to mind. But did you know that Licorice is also a very prized herbal medicine? It’s a flavor that people either seem to love or hate but is often found in tea blends because of his sweet taste. How do you feel about Licorice? You might be surprised that many “Licorice” flavored candies today are actually flavored with another herb called Anise. But Licorice has a history of flavoring candies, teas, alcoholic beverages, cough syrups, throat lozenges and more. You will know if you are eating a true Licorice flavored candy if your tongue and lips become tinged with a yellowish-black color.

Let’s start off with a taste of Licorice. Take a piece of root and chew on it a bit. Bits of the outer bark may come off easily, just spit those out. What do you notice about Licorice’s taste? Do you find him to be sweet? Perhaps with an after taste of bitter? Does Licorice seem to dry up your mouth or moisten it? Does the herb in your mouth seem to be warming, cooling or neutral? Most people describe Licorice as sweet and slightly bitter, moistening and neutral to cooling.

Licorice’s main constituent is a glycoside known as glycyrrhizin or glcyyrrhic acid, which is 50 times sweeter than sugar. Licorice also contains saponins, phytoestrogens, coumarins, essential oils, flavonoids (isoflavones, liquiritin, isoliquiritin) and amines (asparagine and betaine). Nutritionally, Licorice contains protein, fat, calcium, choline, chromium, cobalt, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, silicon, sodium, tin, zinc plus vitamins A, B (niacin/B3, riboflavin/B2 and thiamine/B1) and C.

Medicinally, Licorice is an adrenal tonic, alterative, antacid, antiarthritic, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antitumor, antitussive, antivenomous, antiviral, aperient, aphrodisiac, cardiotonic, chi tonic, demulcent, emollient, expectorant, febrifuge, galactagogue, hepatoprotective, hypocholesterolemic, hypoglycemic, immune tonic, immunomodulator, mild laxative, lung tonic, nutritive, pectoral, phytoestrogenic, rejuvenative, sedative, sialogogue, and tonic.

Let’s take a look at what Licorice is used for…

Licorice is a popular herb to take for many respiratory ailments including coughs (especially dry, hacking coughs), sore throat, hoarseness, wheezing, bronchitis, shortness of breath, tuberculosis and mucus membrane inflammation. As a demulcent, he soothes dry irritated membranes while calling on his expectorant, antitussive and pectoral properties for soothing coughs. Licorice also helps to remove phlegm from the lungs that is stuck. For those who suffer from chronic asthma and have the need of steroids, Licorice can help to strengthen and tonify the lungs, assisting in their recovery and combines well with Saw Palmetto as a lung tonic.

Licorice’s neutral to cooling action combined with his moistening, demulcent and anti-inflammatory actions work well to soothe dry, inflamed and burning issues in the stomach, including gastritis, gastric ulcers and other stomach disorders, especially when caused by NSAIDs or corticosteroids. As an antacid, Licorice may help to neutralize an acidic stomach which can cause indigestion and heart burn. Licorice is very soothing to the gastrointestinal tract, nourishing, lubricating and providing a mild laxative effect. Licorice has also been used for combatting food poisoning and in cases of malabsorption syndrome, malnutrition and metabolic acidosis.

Besides stomach ulcers, Licorice is also helpful with ulcers in the mouth, and can be made into lozenges for helping with the mouth and throat. Licorice also makes a great toothbrush and may help to reduce cavities. One end of the root is chewed until it frays and the outer bark comes off (spit that part out of your mouth) then use the frayed end to rub over your teeth and gums. Before we had toothbrushes, roots and twigs were used in this manner to help clean teeth. Licorice’s antibacterial action helps to reduce the bacteria that causes cavities while his anti-inflammatory action can help to soothe and heal inflamed gums.

As an adrenal tonic, Licorice can be very helpful for those suffering from adrenocortical insufficiency (commonly referred to as Addison’s disease), chronic exhaustion, chronic fatigue syndrome and hypotension (low blood pressure). Studies have show that Licorice is helpful in recovery due to stress, burnout due to stress, diseases with chronic exhaustion and prolonged corticosteroid use, especially when combined with other herbs specific to the individual and their needs, a good diet and an exercise program. At the same time, Licorice’s chi tonic, immune tonic and immunomodulating effects supports the use of Licorice for recovering from adrenal insufficiencies.

It may surprise you that Licorice is also a cardiotonic, assisting with palpitations and  arrhythmias, especially when brought on by exhaustion. Licorice also is hypocholesterolemic, helping to lower cholesterol levels, and hypoglycemic, which helps to lower the blood glucose levels in the body, making Licorice a possibility for helping those with diabetes.

Licorice is a phytoestrogen and may be helpful for those with estrogen deficiency disorders, especially women who have amenorrhea, premenstrual syndrome, depression or are going through menopause and presenting with hot, dry conditions.

As an antibacterial and antiviral, Licorice is effective against a variety of bacteria and viruses including pertussis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, hepatitis, peptic ulcers, laryngitis, and many other digestive, respiratory, and urogenital diseases.

It has been found that Licorice’s antioxidant, antimutagenic and antitumor actions may be effective in fighting tumors and cancer including liver cancer.

Topically Licorice can be used as an emollient for numerous dry, inflamed skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, pruritus (severe itchy skin) and cysts.

Because of Licorice’s sweet flavor, he is often added into formulas and teas that are not great tasting to enhance the flavor. It is also said that Licorice helps to increase the effectiveness of other herbs and pharmaceuticals. Because of this, Licorice should be used with caution in conjunction to other herbs and medications.

While it is good to know we can call on Licorice’s help with just about any condition that is presenting with hot, dry inflamed symptoms, we should approach some with caution. Licorice should not be taken in medicinal amounts for those with hypertension (high blood pressure) and water retention as excessive use may result in abnormally high levels of cortisol in the kidneys which may result in mineral imbalances, sodium retention, potassium depletion and edema.

Do you use Licorice? If so, what do you use it for?

Want to learn more about Licorice? Find the January 2018 issue in our shop!