A voice for
herbal medicine

We share traditional, scientific and practical insights written by experienced herbalists and health experts from the world of herbal medicine and natural health

Licorice may be the world's most widely used professional herbal remedy

Licorice

Glycyrrhiza glabra Fabaceae

Licorice is the original herbal sweetener with many additional benefits.

Sustainability Status

Sustainability status

At risk from overharvesting and habitat loss. Read more about our sustainability guide.

Key benefits
  • Cough and sore throat
  • Upset stomach and hyperacidity
  • To improve liver function
  • To sweeten and harmonise other herbal blends
  • How does it feel?

    Licorice comes in several forms. Perhaps the easiest to try are the licorice sticks found in natural health stores. Chew one of these and the sweetness comes through straightaway, with slight hints of bitterness following behind and a finish that leads to more salivation. To accentuate these nuanced tastes one needs to try a more concentrated extract, when the ‘sour’ salivary after-reaction is more pronounced.

    Clearly, it is the sweetness of licorice which dominates its properties, ensuring that it is the most widely used ingredient in herbal mixtures around the world. As well as making the tastes of other herbs more acceptable (especially for children), those who have experienced this mix agree that licorice harmonises the combined effects of other ingredients in the blend.

  • What can I use it for?

    Licorice is most often used in home remedies to make other herbs more palatable, especially when given to children. All medicine traditions agreed that its harmonising role was much more extensive than this and it is possibly the most widely used ingredient of folk remedies in the world.

    The most common specific uses of licorice are for immediate relief of coughs, sore throats and for upset stomach and digestion. Other uses cited here may involve a more strategic approach as symptom changes are often slower to show.

  • 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.

    It 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.

    It is also an effective hepatoprotective, supporting the regeneration and repair of damaged liver cells, particularly in chronic conditions such as cirrhosis and hepatitis.

  • Traditional uses

    It is remarkable that many of the recorded uses from different world regions over the ages are consistent, and often supported by scientific research. Reference to treatment of conditions including laryngitis, pharyngitis, cough, peptic ulcer and hepatitis are common to European, Indian and Chinese traditions.

    Licorice sticks are very widely used around the world as toothbrushes, a reputation backed by modern evidence for a benefit against tooth decay and gum problems.

    In European history licorice, often as extracts, is used to sweeten and harmonise the impact of herbal mixtures, and on its own as a cough and throat remedy, for stomach problems, and consistently as a convalescent tonic

    Licorice is probably the most commonly used herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and is included in the majority of formulae: it is said to tonify the Spleen (roughly translated as the wider digestive and assimilative functions in the body), clears Heat and detoxifies Fire Poison (sore throat, boils), moistens the Lungs, stops coughing and soothes spasm. Some of the indications reported in early Chinese texts are common to European usage, such as cough, pharyngitis, gastric pain, ulcers in the gastrointestinal tract and sores. However, the Chinese also used licorice as a detoxifying agent for poisoning by drugs or food, a use also found in Ayurveda.

    Other Ayurvedic uses of licorice include viral respiratory infections, asthma, bronchitis, throat infection, eye irritation, ulcers (peptic, oral), acute and chronic liver disease, constipation, painful urination, catarrh of the genitourinary tract, wound infection, arthritis and as a rejuvenative tonic. Licorice is most commonly used in TCM and Ayurveda to strengthen and harmonise herbal formulae.

  • Traditional actions

  • Traditional energetic actions

    Herbal energetics are the descriptions Herbalists have given to plants, mushrooms, lichens, foods, and some minerals based on the direct experience of how they taste, feel, and work in the body. All traditional health systems use these principles to explain how the environment we live in and absorb, impacts our health. Find out more about traditional energetic actions in our article “An introduction to herbal energetics“.

  • What practitioners say

    licorice plantRespiratory system: licorice appears to loosen mucus so use with dry coughs with scanty or stuck phlegm, sore throat, laryngitis and tonsillitis. It is specific for aggravated, dry coughingIt is also useful in infections with yellow/green sputum and at a higher dose it is a more stimulating expectorant to clear mucus.

    Digestion: it is specific for gastritis, 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 can be more stimulating.

    Liver: there is a significant hepatoprotective action, reducing inflammation in hepatitis and chronic liver disease.

    Steroidal responses: containing steroidal saponins licorice appears to be an adrenal and reproductive tonic, and there are records of its being used in Addison’s disease as an adrenal supplement. This activity may account for the use of licorice in exhausted and hyperactive conditions such as ME and chronic fatigue syndrome.

    Urine: licorice soothes painful, burning symptoms of cystitis.

    Skin: it is a useful soothing external application for the itching of dry skin. Its inflammatory-reducing effects are commonly employed to treat red, hot, inflamed skin disorders.

  • Research

    There is a large body of research on licorice including a number of clinical trials. The main areas of clinical investigation on licorice include supporting healthy liver function (1,2), weight reduction (3), treating sore throats (4), effects on steroid metabolism in women (5), antiviral activity and chronic viral hepatitis treatment. Research also points towards benefit in managing arthritis (6).

    In previous decades there was much research interest in the role of a preparation of licorice (Caved-S) in the treatment of peptic (gastric or duodenal) ulcers, with encouraging results. In medical practice this treatment has been eclipsed by standard H2-blockers like omeprazole or cimetidine. A more recent study has demonstrated that adding it to other treatments helps control the main infective cause of peptic ulcers, Helicobacter pylori (7).

  • Did you know?

    The licorice constituent glycyrrhizin is 50 times sweeter than sucrose.

Additional information

  • 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. It 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 downy and upright, growing to about 1.5m in height. The stolons and long rootlets emerge from a thick rhizome of dark, reddish- or greyish-brown colour externally, while yellowish inside. The leaves are a dark green and arranged in pairs (pinnate) along the stem. The flowers spring from the axils of the leaves and are a light blue or pale violet, very similar in appearance to those of the sweet pea.

    Alternate botanical names:

    • Glycyrrhiza glandulifera
    • G. hirsuta
    • G. officinalis
    • G. violacea
    • G. viscosa
    • Liquiritae officinalis
    • Liquiritia officinalis
    • In China, Glycyrrhiza uralensis is used
  • Common names

    • Sweet root
    • Sweetwood
    • Black sugar (Eng)
    • Süssholzwurzel (Ger)
    • Lakritzenwurzel (Ger)
    • Réglisse (Fr)
    • Bois doux (Fr)
    • Liquirizia (Ital)
    • Regolizia (Ital)
    • Regalíz (Sp)
    • Orozuz (Sp)
    • Jethimadh (Hindi)
    • Mulhathi (Hindi)
    • Madhuuka (Sanskrit)
    • Yastimadhu (Sanskrit)
    • Gan cao (Chin)
  • Safety

    Moderate licorice consumption is likely to be safe for the vast majority of people. Regular high levels of licorice consumption, especially in the form of licorice candy, have been associated with raised blood pressure. The best calculation is that regular intake of 12g per day over a long period could cause such a problem.

    Similar concerns have been raised in relation to regular high doses taken during pregnancy and this should be avoided, especially if there is associated high blood pressure.

    Licorice may interact with corticosteroids and certain types of (potassium-depleting) diuretics and laxatives and again if these are being prescribed it will be wise to keep any regular consumption at low levels and check with your prescriber. Long term regular use of high doses may not be wise if you have osteoporosis.

  • Dosage

    1.5-5 g of licorice root

  • Plant parts used

    Root

  • Constituents

    • Triterpenoid saponins including 2-6% glycyrrhizin, present in the form of potassium and calcium salts. The aglycone derivative of glycyrrhizin (GL) is glycyrrhetinic acid (GA), and is also present as such in the root at between 0.5–0.9%.
    • Flavonoids flavanones, mainly liquiritin, chalcones and isoflavonoids
    • Sterols
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • Recipe

    A ‘cup of love’ tea

    A blend of flowers bringing you some of nature’s finest love. Drink to soothe a broken heart or feed you when you just want a sip of love.

    Ingredients:

    • Chamomile flower 3g
    • Limeflower 2g
    • Marigold (calendula) petal 2g
    • Rose flower 1g
    • Lavender flower 1g
    • Licorice root 1g

    This will serve 3 cups of love.

    Method:

    • Put all of the ingredients in a pot.
    • Add 500ml/18fl oz freshly boiled filtered water.
    • Leave to steep for 10–15 minutes, then strain and let the love flow.

    I love my liver tea

    Our liver takes the brunt of the grunt work for metabolising wastes, so use this tea when you feel sluggish, your digestion is poor or you feel that you need a detox.

    Ingredients:

    Dandelion root 4g
    Schisandra berries 3g
    Dandelion leaf 2g
    Fennel seed 2g
    Turmeric root powder 1g
    Rosemary leaf 1g
    Licorice root 1g

    This will serve 2–3 cups of liver-loving tea.

    Method:

    • Put all of the ingredients in a pot. Add 500ml/18fl oz freshly boiled filtered water.
    • Leave to steep for 10–15 minutes, then strain.

    Aphrodite’s aphrodisiac tea

    This tea reaches deep into the reproductive system, nourishing our procreative and sexual energy. Use it when preparing for a family or for nurturing your love life. For men and women, this elixir feeds sex hormone release, improves egg/sperm quality and enhances orgasmic experiences.

    Ingredients:

    • Shatavari root 4g
    • Ashwagandha root 2g
    • Licorice root 2g
    • Cinnamon bark 2g
    • Milk (any type) 250ml (9fl oz)
    • Damiana leaf 2g
    • Cacao powder 1 tsp per cup
    • Maca root 1 tsp per cup
    • Flower pollen ½ tsp per cup
    • Vanilla essence a dash per cup
    • Honey (or Amaretto) a drop per cup

    Makes 2 cups of the most amorous elixir.

    Method:

    • Put the shatavari, ashwagandha, licorice and cinnamon in a saucepan with the milk and 250ml/9fl oz cold filtered water.
    • Cover, bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and add the damiana leaf.
    • Leave to steep for 10 minutes, then strain.
    • To each cup, add the cacao, maca, flower pollen, vanilla essence and honey. Then top with the tea and stir.

    Recipes from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole

  • References

    1. Chigurupati H, Auddy B, Biyani M, Stohs SJ. (2016) Hepatoprotective Effects of a Proprietary Glycyrrhizin Product during Alcohol Consumption: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Study. Phytother Res. 30(12): 1943–1953
    2. Hajiaghamohammadi AA, Ziaee A, Samimi R. (2012) The efficacy of licorice root extract in decreasing transaminase activities in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a randomized controlled clinical trial. Phytother Res. 26(9): 1381–1384
    3. Luís Â, Domingues F, Pereira L. (2018) Metabolic changes after licorice consumption: A systematic review with meta-analysis and trial sequential analysis of clinical trials. Phytomedicine. 39: 17–24
    4. Kuriyama A, Maeda H. (2019) Topical application of licorice for prevention of postoperative sore throat in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Anesth. 54: 25–32
    5. Armanini D, Mattarello MJ, Fiore C, et al. (2004) Licorice reduces serum testosterone in healthy women. Steroids. 69(11-12): 763–766
    6. Huang QC, Wang MJ, Chen XM, et al. (2016) Can active components of licorice, glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetinic acid, lick rheumatoid arthritis?. Oncotarget. 7(2): 1193–1202
    7. Hajiaghamohammadi AA, Zargar A, Oveisi S, et al (2016). To evaluate of the effect of adding licorice to the standard treatment regimen of Helicobacter pylori. Braz J Infect Dis. 20(6): 534–538
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

Sign up to our Newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter to receive the very latest in herbal insights.

Sign up to our newsletter