Licorice Root

Common Name

Licorice root

Botanical Name

Glycyrrhiza glabra


Russian licorice
Spanish licorice
Turkish licorice
Yashtimadhu (Ayurvedic)
Guang guo gan cao (Chinese)
Gan cao (Chinese)
Licorice root
Glycyrrhiza glabra
Russian licorice
Spanish licorice
Turkish licorice
Yashtimadhu (Ayurvedic)
Guang guo gan cao (Chinese)
Gan cao (Chinese)
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The activity of licorice root is clearly not due to just one compound. The root contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents.

Licorice root is the common name for Glycyrrhiza glabra. The term Glycyrrhiza means sweet root in Greek. Glabra means smooth, referring to the smooth pods of the plant.

What Is It?

Licorice root refers to the dried, unpeeled roots of Glycyrrhiza glabra, containing not less than 4 percent glycyrrhizic acid and 25 percent water-soluble matter. Glycyrrhizin in the root, which is commonly used in flavoring, is 50 times sweeter than sucrose, and possesses cortisone-like effects.

Glycyrrhiza glabra is a perennial shrub native to Eurasia, which grows to approximately 1 metre in height. The root is used to make licorice candy, and for flavoring in tobacco, liquers, beer, chewing gum, and soft drinks.

Due to its widespread use, licorice has been studied to a significant degree. A good body of science exists on its constituents and applications.

Licorice root and its extracts are made into bronchial and gastrointestinal remedies, and preparations for the liver, bile and urinary tract. Today the primary uses of licorice root are as an expectorant for coughs and bronchial catarrh (inflammation of a mucus membrane with a free discharge), and for treating gastritis and ulcers.

Medicinal History

Originating from Eurasia, licorice was first mentioned by Aristotle’s successor, the Greek Theophrastus, and was written about by the Romans. Its cultivation in England dates back to the 16th century.

Licorice root was recommended by the Greeks to treat ulcers, and by Arab physicians to ease side effects from laxatives. As a traditional medicine, licorice root has been used for gastric and duodenal ulcers, sore throat, malaria, abdominal pain, insomnia, tuberculosis, sores, abcesses, food poisoning and cancer.

In North America, licorice root was employed by the Cherokee to relieve coughs and asthma, and as an expectorant. The Meskwaki used the root for female troubles.

Licorice root plays and important role in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), where it is used in a plethora of preparations. In TCM licorice root is considered an aid to longevity. In that system licorice is used to treat sore throat, carbuncles, toxic swelling, toxicosis in fetuses and children, diarrhea due to spleen deficiency, thirst due to stomach deficiency, cough due to dry lungs,a nd to ease palpitations.

Licorice root has also been used to treat addison’s disease and arthritis, and following steroid use. Today the primary uses of licorice root are as an expectorant for coughs and bronchial catarrh (inflammation of a mucus membrane with a free discharge), and for treating gastritis and ulcers.

Habitat & Cultivation

Licorice grows widely in Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, China, and the United states. The roots are collected and dried in the fall. The plant grows in deep, rich, sandy soil in the sun. The flowers are removed to concentrate the potency of the roots, which are picked 3 – 4 years after planting. The roots are then dried and made into a variety of flavorings and medicinal preparations. The roots are often sold in neatly tied bundles, or in blocks.

How It Works

Licorice root possesses demulcent (soothing inflamed or irritated tissue), anti-ulcer, spasmolytic (checking spasms), antitoxic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergenic properties. Specifically, glycyrrhizic acid and a related compound appear to accelerate the healing of gastric ulcers. Extracts of licorice root also show estrogenic activity (promotes production of female sex hormones), and demonstrate anti-tumor, anticonvulsive, and antibacterial properties.

The activity of licorice root is clearly not due to just one compound. The root contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents. Even licorice extract with its glycyrrhizin removed (deglycyrrhizinated) shows beneficial activity in treating duodenal and gastric ulcers.

Contemporary Uses Approved by Authoritative Bodies

Germany’s Commission E approves the use of licorice root for :
• Catarrhs (inflammation of a mucus membrane with a free discharge) of the upper respiratory tract.
• Gastric and duodenal ulcers.

WHO claims that no uses of Licorice root are supported by clinical data.
• WHO then goes on to describe human clinical studies in which administration of Licorice root improved gastric and dodenal ulcers.

The British Herbal Compendium indicates use of licorice root for:
• Bronchitis
• Peptic ulcer
• Chronic gastritis

Potential Risks

Safety issues and concerns
• Licorice root, if taken in excessive quantities, can cause potassium depletion, sodium retention, edema, hypertension, and weight gain.

Contraindications – based on conditions and medication intake, etc.
• Licorice root should not be used in cases of cholestatic liver disorders (which are characterized by stopped or suppressed bile flow), liver cirrhosis, hypertonia (excessive tone of the skeletal muscles), hypokalemia (abnormally low blood potassium), severe kidney insufficiency, or during pregnancy.

Potentially harmful drug interactions
• Licorice root may interact with thiazide diuretics, or cardiac glycosides.
• Licorcie root should not be used in conjunction with spironolactone or amiloride.
• Licorice root should not be used concurrently with corticosteroid treatment.

Allergy precautions
• There are no known allergies to licorice root.

Usage Tips

Germany’s Commission E recommends a daily intake of Licorice root of 5 – 15 grams of cut or powdered root, or dry extracts equivalent to 200 – 600 mg of glycyrrhizin.
• WHO gives a suggested daily dose of 200 – 800 mg of glycyrrhizin.
• Do not use Licorice for more than 4 – 6 weeks without the advice of a physician.

Product Choosing/Buying Tips

• Look for licorice root herbal products which specifiy the amount of glycyrrhizin in the product. This will help you to stay accurately within the combined Commission E and WHO dosage guidelines of 200 – 800 mg of glycyrrhizin daily.
• Choose cerified organic licorice root whenever possible.
• Choose licorice root products from companies with excellent reputations for quality.
• There is some concern that excessive intake of glycyrrhizin may cause aldosteronism, an abnormality of electrolyte metabolism caused by excessive secretion of the hormone aldosterone. For this reason, you may find deglycyrrhizinated licorice root products. There is probably no reason to choose these, unless advised by a physician.

Science Update
In a study reported in 2002, Supplementation of licorice root extract to patients for 1 mo was followed by an additional 1 mo of placebo consumption. Licorice consumption reduced patients' plasma susceptibility to oxidation, reduced plasma cholesterol levels, which was due to a 9% reduction in plasma LDL cholesterol levels; and reduced plasma triacylglycerol levels. The study concluded that dietary consumption of licorice-root extract by patients with high cholesterol may act as a moderate cholesterol-lowering agent, and a potent antioxidant agent, and thus may provide protection against cardiovascular disease.

In a review of licorice and its effects reported in 2001, the authors suggest that licorice may possess anti-cancer properties by a few different means. Licorice may protect against DNA damage caused by carcinogens, may inhibit other cancer-forming factors, and may kill some cancer cells.

An in vitro (test tube0 study reported in 2002 shows that certain compounds in licorice root inhibit some enzymes responsible for the formation of certain cancers in humans. This suggests that licorice root may possess cancer-inhibiting properties. This study must be conducted in living humnas to know for sure.


• Among its many and diverse uses, licorice root is used as a foaming agent in beers and fire extinguishers.