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Licorice

Licorice photo

Glycyrrhiza glabra – Radix

Common name: Licorice (E), Jethimadh (H)

Sanskrit: Yastimadhu

Family: Fabaceae (Leguminosae)

Yastimadhu means the ‘sweet stick’. Its sweet flavour indicates its tonifying effects; it directly strengthens the kidneys, nourishes the nervous system, is a superb anti-inflammatory and balances all three Ayurvedic doshas.

Botanical Description

Licorice is native to Eurasia, northern Africa and Western Asia, but is now commonly cultivated due to its use in the production of Licorice based sweets. Licorice belongs to the pea and bean family, so will grow best in soils with a high nitrogen content. Its natural habitat is dry, open scrubland and damp habitats close to water sources. It is a perennial herb with underground rhizomes, characteristic of the fabaceae family. The stems are hairy and upright, growing to about 1m in height. The leaves are a dark green and arranged in pairs along the stem. The flowers are a light blue or pale violet and are very similar in appearance to those of the sweet pea. 

How it Works

The primary constituent in licorice is Glycyrrhizic acid (GA) also known as glycyrrhizin. This constituent can be effective in the treatment of chronic hepatitis and it supports the regeneration and repair of damaged hepatocytes. It has demonstrated the ability to inhibit the growth of several DNA and RNA viruses and deactivates the herpes simplex virus.

GA has received bad press regarding its potential for increasing blood pressure and decreasing blood potassium levels. These studies have used either isolated extracts of (GA) or licorice candy sweets. Isolated GA is highly concentrated and absorbed more rapidly by the body in comparison to ingesting the raw plant material. Similarly, in licorice candy sweets, it is the high levels of sugar and salt that may be responsible for significant changes in blood pressure or potassium levels. Interestingly, a number of additional naturally occurring constituents found in licorice root have actually been shown to modify the enzymes that initiate changes in blood chemistry and pressure depending upon the condition and need of the human body. There is a broad consensus that a safe daily dosage of GA is 120mg per day when taken over a prolonged period.

The triterpene constituents present in licorice are metabolised to molecules with a similar structure to those of the adrenal cortex hormones, making this herb an effective adaptogen.

Into the Heart of Licorice

Licorice is emollient, demulcent and nutritive. It naturally produces mucilage which soothes inflamed mucous membranes throughout the body, with a particular affinity for the respiratory tract, digestion and urinary system. It encourages a healthy inflammation response and, through coating hot and irritated membranes, allows time for damaged cells to regenerate and repair effectively. Licorice strengthens and supports the nervous system and adrenal glands through the production of constituents that mimic those found in the adrenal cortex. It will modify the body’s own stress response to prevent the onset of adrenal exhaustion and impart a tonifying effect through the body. Licorice is also an effective hepatoprotective, supporting the regeneration and repair of damaged liver cells, particularly in chronic conditions such as cirrhosis and hepatitis.

Indications

Lungs: Use with dry coughs with difficult to expectorate phlegm, sore throat, laryngitis and tonsillitis as licorice liquefy mucus. Specific for aggravated, dry coughing by virtue of its sweet, heavy and unctuous properties. It is also useful in infections with yellow/green sputum and at a high dose it is an emetic to clear mucus from the lungs and stomach.

GIT: Specific for ulcers and all intestinal inflammations and spasms with pain. It is very useful in hyperacidity and is often used for arresting bleeding in the intestines and lungs. Its demulcent nature moistens and relaxes the bowel and is helpful in drying constipation. At low dose it is anti-emetic (if nausea is caused by heat) and in high doses it is an emetic.

Liver: Hepatoprotective action in hepatitis and chronic liver disease. Licorice soothes the heat that travels via the liver to the blood. Used for skin conditions, such as acne, with heat and inflammation.

Kidneys and nerves: Indicated in nervous exhaustion as licorice is a strong adrenal tonic giving enduring energy. It is a tonic for the whole reproductive system. Its cortisol-like action is useful in Addison’s disease and in exhausted and hyperactive conditions such as ME and CFS.

Urine: Its cooling action and unctuous nature are beneficial in inflammations of the urinary tract and it should be used to treat cystitis and painful, burning urination.

Skin: It is a useful emolliating herb for preventing itching with dry skin. Its anti-inflammatoryreducing effects are commonly employed to treat red, hot, inflamed skin disorders.

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