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.
All around the world the actions of traditional medicines were understood by their immediate sensory impacts. Click on each of licorice’s key qualities below to learn more:
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.
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.
What practitioners say
Respiratory 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 coughing. It 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 applcation for the itching of dry skin. Its inflammatory-reducing effects are commonly employed to treat red, hot, inflamed skin disorders.
Did you know?
The licorice constituent glycyrrhizin is 500 times sweeter than sucrose.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
‘Digestive detox’ tea
This detoxifying blend of tasty seeds and roots will help to regulate digestion, banish sluggishness and cleanse the blood.
- Aniseed 4g
- Fennel seed 4g
- Cardamom pod 3g
- Dandelion root 2g
- Licorice root 1g
- Celery seed 1g
- Lemon a twist per cup
This will serve 2 cups detoxifying tea with a citrus twist.
- Put all of the ingredients in a pot (except for the lemon juice).
- Add 500ml/18fl oz freshly boiled filtered water.
- Leave to steep for 10–15 minutes, then strain.
- Enjoy with a twist of lemon in each cup.
Recipes from Cleanse, Nurture, Restore by Sebastian Pole
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.
Traditional Ayurvedic characteristics are
- Rasa (taste) Sweet.
- Virya (action) Cooling.
- Vipaka (post-digestive effect) Sweet.
- Guna (quality) Heavy, moist.
- Dosha effect: reduces aggravated vata, pitta andkapha, in high doses strengthens kapha
- Dhatu (tissue) All tissues.
- Srotas (channels) Digestive, respiratory, nervous, excretory, reproductive.
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, weight reduction, treating sore throats, effects on steroid metabolism in women, antiviral activity and chronic viral hepatitis treatment. Research also points towards benefit in managing arthritis.
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.
To see the references used in this summary check our downloadable Expert Herbal Reality Resource pdf
1.5-5 g of liquorice root.
- 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