Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra, Leguminosae)

Habitat: Native to the Mediterranean region and parts of Asia, cultivated worldwide.

Collection: The roots are unearthed in the late autumn. Clean thoroughly and dry.

Part Used: Dried root.


  • Triterpenes of the oleanane type, mainly glycyrrhizin (glycyrrhizic or glycyrrhizinic acid), and its agylcone glycyrrhetinic acid (=glycyrrhitic acid), liquiritic acid, glycyrrhetol, glabrolide, isoglabrolide, licoric acid, & phytosterols.
  • Flavonoids and isoflavonoids; liquiritigenin, liquiritin, rhamnoliquiritin, neoliquiritin, licoflavonol, licoisoflavones A and B, licoisoflavanone, formononetin, glabrol, glabrone, glyzarin, kumatakenin and others.
  • Coumarins; liqcoumarin, umbelliferone, herniarin glycyrin.
  • Chalcones; liquiritigenin, isoliquiritigenin, neosoliquiritin, rhamnoisoliquiritin, licuraside, licochalcones A and B, echinatin and others.
  • Polysaccharides, mainly glucans.
  • Volatile oil, containing fenchone, linalool, furfuryl alcohol, benzaldehyde.
  • Miscellaneous; starch, sugars, amino acid etc.

Actions: Expectorant, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, anti-hepatotoxic, anti-spasmodic, mild laxative.

Indications: Licorice is a traditional herbal remedy with an ancient history and world wide usage. Modern research has shown it to have effects upon, amongst other organs, the endocrine system and liver. The triterpenes of Glycyrrhiza are metabolized in the body to molecules that have a similar structure to the adrenal cortex hormones. This is possibly the basis of the herbs anti-inflammatory action. As an anti-hepatotoxic it can be effective in the treatment of chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis, for which it is been widely used in Japan. Much of the liver orientated research has focused upon the triterpene glycyrrhizin.

This inhibits hepatocyte injury caused by carbon tetrachloride, benzene hexachloride and PCB. Antibody production is enhanced by glycyrrhizin, possibly through the production of interleukin. Glycyrrhizin inhibits the growth of several DNA and RNA viruses, inactivating Herpes simplex virus particles irreversibly. It has a wide range of uses in bronchial problems such as catarrh, bronchitis and coughs in general. Licorice is used in allopathic medicine as a treatment for peptic ulceration, a similar use to its herbal use in gastritis and ulcers. It can be used in the relief of abdominal colic.

Kings Dispensatory describes it thus: “Licorice root is emollient, demulcent and nutritive. It acts upon mucous surfaces, lessening irritation and is consequently useful in coughs, catarrhs, irritation of the urinary organs and pain of the intestines in diarrhea. It is commonly administered in decoction, sometimes alone, at other times with the addition of other agents and which is the preferable mode of using it.

As a general rule, the acrid bark should be removed previous to forming a decoction. When boiled for some time the water becomes impregnated with its acrid resin; hence, in preparing a decoction for the purpose of sweetening diet drinks or covering the taste of nauseous drugs, it should not be boiled over 5 minutes. The efficiency of the root in old bronchial affections may be due to this acrid resin. The powdered root is also employed to give the proper solidity to pills and to prevent their adhesion; the extract for imparting the proper viscidity to them.

The extract, in the form of lozenge, held in the mouth until it has dissolved, is a very popular and efficient remedy in coughs and pectoral affections. An excellent troche or lozenge, very useful in ordinary cough, may be made by combining together 6 parts of refined Licorice, 2 parts of benzoic acid, 4 parts of pulverized alum, and 1/2 a part of pulverized opium. Dissolve the Licorice in water and evaporate to the proper consistence, then add the powders with a few drops of oil of Anise and divide it into 3 or 6-grain lozenges. The bitterness of quinine, quassia, aloes and the acrid taste of senega, guaiacum, mezereon and ammonium chloride are masked by Licorice.

Preparations & Dosage: Decoction: put 1/2 – 1 teaspoonful of the root in a cup of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day. Tincture: take 1-3ml of the tincture three times a day.

Caution: There is a small possibility of effecting electrolyte balance with extended use of large doses of Licorice. It has an ACTH like effect causing retention of sodium thus raising BP. The whole herb has constituents that counter this but it is best to avoid Licorice if the patient has hypertension, kidney disease or during pregnancy.

Modern Use!

If we look at use of licorice from a western perspective, we see that its use has changed little over 3,000 years. It is considered demulcent (soothing to irritated membranes), expectorant (loosening and helping to expel congestion in the upper respiratory tract), and stimulates mucous secretions of the trachea. Other well-documented activities include significant anti-inflammatory effects, a protectant effect on the liver against toxic substances and antiallergic activity.

As a very important medicinal plant on a worldwide basis, the chemistry and pharmacology of European and Chinese licorice have been well studied. Up to 24 percent of the root weight is glycyrrhizin, the plant’s major active component. Glycyrrhizin (also known as glycyrrhizic acid) is an extremely sweet glycoside, which foams in water. Other components called flavonoids are also responsible for some the root’s attributed actions. Glycyrrhizin is said to be from fifty to two hundred times sweeter than sugar, hence the sweet taste associated with licorice root. Licorice root itself has a very sweet musty flavor, rather than the “anise” flavor we have come to associate with licorice.

Studies have shown that glycyrrhizin stimulates the excretion of hormones by the adrenal cortex. Some researchers have suggested it as a possible drug to prolong the action of cortisone. Glycyrrhizin has a similar chemical structure to corticosteroids released by the adrenals, and further studies have suggested that it might one day prove useful in improving the function of hormone drugs, or be used as an aid in helping to reduce withdrawal symptoms from dependency on some corticosteroid hormones. Glycyrrhizin has also shown estrogenic activity in laboratory animals, and is experimentally anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, and antibacterial. In China, licorice root is used as an antacid.

Licorice – The Legendary Herb!

Licorice is a botanical, a shrub native to southern Europe and Asia, the roots of which have two primary desirable qualities: first, some varieties of licorice root are fifty times sweeter than sugar and may be chewed or eaten as a sweet and making it a useful component of candies and flavorings; second, licorice has been for thousands of years sought after for its reputed medicinal qualities. Licorice grows wild in southern central Europe and Asia. It is used for its roots and its rhizomes (underground stems). Glycyrrhizic acid is extracted from the root and used as a flavoring in food, tobacco, alcohol, and cosmetics.

“In the depths of King Tut’s tomb (a pyramid, no less) were found sticks of dried licorice. To the Egyptians, the sweet-tasting licorice root was a cure-all in much the same manner in which the Chinese related to Ginseng. “Licorice is particularly good for sore throats and coughs. It is extremely soothing to the mucous membranes of the digestive tract. It also has been used as a folk remedy to heal peptic ulcers because of its soothing demulcent properties. Another common use of licorice is an expectorant to bring forth and expel phlegm for minor respiratory problems.” Three active chemical agents found in licorice, glycyrrhizin, glycyrrhizic acid and glycerrhitimic acid… have been proven effective through research in healing gastric ulcers.

Some research indicates that licorice extract contains powerful principles which can help restore normal “adrenal functions” in persons with Addison’s disease and in people who suffer from adrenal exhaustion. (Herbal Connection pg. 67) There has been a good deal of modern research on licorice, especially on the relationship between its active ingredients, glycyrrhizin, and cortisone, as well as the effect of glycyrrhizin on adrenal functions and arthritis. Cold licorice tea is used in place of water in many European industries, especially in iron and steel mills, where workers must endure considerable heat.

Licorice has been used for centuries as a confection and because of its saponin content it is an effective soother of various internal pains. It is helpful for alleviating such ailments as inflamed stomachs, bronchitis, sore throat, coughs, irritation of the bowel and kidney, and indigestion. In Denmark, experiments have shown licorice to be very effective for treating duodenal and peptic ulcers. Southern Europeans drink large amounts of licorice water because they believe it to be a “blood purifier” Licorice root is native to Greece, Asia Minor, Spain, Southern Italy, Syria, Iraq, Caucasian and Trans Caspian Russia and Northern China.


Licorice root contains saponins. These are substances which produce bubbles when shaken with water. It is the saponins (detergent-like action) that loosen the phlegm in the respiratory tract, so that the body can expel the mucus. They also increase the body’s “utilization” of calcium and silicon. Flavonoid substances which are responsible for the yellow color of the root as well as for the health of the arteries are also present in the root. Glycyrrhizin, a sweet white crystalline powder composed of the “calcium and potassium salts” of glycyrrhizic acid is one of the main constituents of the herb. According to Dr. Shook, licorice root contain sugar, starch, gum, protein, fat, resin, asparagin (which contains 12% nitrogen due to the nitrogen fixing bacteria on the nodules of the roots of a legumes), a trace of tannin in the outer bark of the root, and a volatile oil. The amount of glycyrrhizi in the extract varies from 5 to 24% and the amount of moisture varies from 8 to 17%.

Medicinal and Therapeutic Uses for Licorice!

Licorice is an aperient (mild laxative), an expectorant tonic, alterative, demulcent, emmenagogue, emollient, pectoral, stimulant, sialagogue, anti-inflammatory agent, and nourishing herb. Licorice is extremely soothing to the mucous membranes. It is unequalled in the treatment of coughs or inflammations of the respiratory tract. It lubricates, soothes, and heals inflamed, mucous-secreting tissues. The root is excellent as a stool softener or mild laxative especially for children because it does not cause gripping of the intestine as the other cathartic herbs are known to do. Its sweet, pleasant taste and mild action make licorice root a desirable laxative herb for children and delicate folks whose weakened bowel could not withstand the quick and drastic purge of the cathartic.

In gastric or bowel irritations, licorice acts as an anti-inflammatory substance. Licorice is recommended by many herbal sources for cases of hemorrhoids or an otherwise inflamed intestinal tract. There is herbal and medical evidence that licorice has been successfully used to heal gastric ulcers. Licorice is also administered for coughs and sore throats. Licorice also exhibits a cortisone-like action and some female “hormone-estrogenic” activity. Medical journal articles confirm that licorice exhibits cortisone-like activity and can nourish the adrenals if there is some healthy tissue remaining in these organs.

Given the ancient information that licorice was useful in stopping the pain of indigestion, one wonders why the old reliable wholesome licorice root tea, powder, or extract isn’t more often used judiciously as a food supplement. This would prevent the body from breaking down and making it necessary for the lab to take over where the Lord left off. In addition to quenching thirst and appetite, licorice root has been an aid in reducing the desire to smoke tobacco and consume alcohol.

Author: Life Enthusiast Staff