Latin name: Glycyrrhiza glabra
Common names: Chinese Licorice, Gan Cao, Licorice Root, Sweet Wood, Kuo – lao, Ling – t’ung
Medicinal part: Rootstock
How Licorice Root Is Used :
Peeled licorice root is available in dried and powdered forms.
Licorice root is available as capsules, tablets, and liquid extracts.
Licorice can be found with glycyrrhizin removed; the product is called DGL (for “deglycyrrhizinated licorice”).
World view of the Licorice Root
As this herb has been used for a wide variety of ailments, for the purpose of this article I will limit those to the most commonly utilized along with any recent research findings related to the medicinal usage of the licorice root. Most herbal preparations are made from the dried fruit of the plant.
Licorice is a perennial plant that can be found in southern and central Europe and in some parts of Asia. Licorice is popular in its natural form in Italy (particularly in the South) and Spain. The root of the plant is simply unearthed, washed and chewed as a mouth freshener. Licorice is not only the number one DRUG used in the world today but it is also the most frequently administered herb by herbalists for themselves. Europeans use the licorice root for the treatment of chest pains, cough, congestion, overall fatigue and constipation. The root is more commonly used in India and in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), compared to North America, making it more widely used than any pharmaceutical drug on the market today. Also known as the “Great Adjunct”, the “Great Detoxifier” and the “Grandfather of Chinese herbs”, licorice is thought to be beneficial in the treatment of conditions that affect the stomach, kidneys, lungs as well as the spleen. It can also be used affective in the treatment of auto-immune conditions including lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and animal dander allergies according to TCM.
In the East Indian or Ayurvedic (Sanskrit: आयुर्वेद; Āyurveda, “the knowledge for long life”) culture, Licorice is thought to be a “liquifier of the stomach”, aiding in the digestion process, Again respiratory conditions appear to be minimized with the use of licorice root, specifically in cases of asthma, bronchitis and colds. The East Indians believe that the licorice root can strengthen cases of fatigue as well as promote eye sight. Arthritic conditions, urinary complaints, fevers and circulation can all be improved with treatment of this herb.
Looking at the North American Indians, licorice root was commonly administered for sore throats, bronchial conditions and for calming an upset stomach. Like the Cheyenne, licorice was taken for gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea. Ear aches, fever and toothaches were treated with licorice root by the Dakota and Pawnee. The Navaho used the root as a mild cathartic (laxative) also as a form of cleansing which was prepared as a decoction ( water solution of plant extracts which is boiled).
Modern confirms that the pharmaceutical licorice is beneficial in the following situations:
As an estrogenic, anti-allergic, expectorant, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-convulsive, choleretic, anti-tussive ( relieves coughing) , anti-hepatotoxic (strength and stimulant for the functioning of liver), and antineoplastic (to prevent, inhibit or halt the development of a tumor).
Licorice has been proven to regulate estrogen metabolism as well as stimulate the immune system which has been instrumental in the treatment of CFS and Fibromyalgia by increasing cortisol activity and reducing stress levels. Evidence suggests that this herb inhibits the growth of RNA and DNA in certain viruses such as herpes among others. Various studies suggest that licorice root is highly effective in the treatment of ulcers, inhibits toxicity in the liver and has a cortisone-like action as an anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory. This is good news in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis which affects many people in the older population.
According to the many sources I have consulted licorice root is used to eliminate side effects from other herbs.
The compounded carbenoxolone is derived from licorice. Some studies indicate that it inhibits 11β-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1, an enzyme that is highly expressed in liver and fat tissues, where it plays a role in metabolism, and in the brain, where the same enzyme is involved in stress response that has been associated with age-related mental decline.
The herb is primarily used in medicine for respiratory conditions such as: allergies, bronchitis, colds, and sore throats. It is also used as treatment for acid reflux, heartburn and stomach ulcers, digestive tract inflammation, diseases of the skin, relief from physical and emotional stress, and certain diseases of the liver. Licorice can be used to treat ileitis, leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease as it is antispasmodic in the bowels.
According to Science Daily, Scientists are reporting identification of two substances in licorice — used extensively in Chinese traditional medicine — that kill the major bacteria responsible for tooth decay and gum disease, the leading causes of tooth loss in children and adults.
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) claims the licorice root has anti-inflammatory effects and has been used to treat stomach ulcers, bronchitis, sore throats, and infections caused by viruses. They also point out that several clinical trials found that the component glycyrrhizin, also found in licorice could reduce complications from hepatitis C in some patients.
The benefits of using licorice root are far more extensive then I have explored in this article. I strongly encourage readers to look further into the use of licorice root to attain a more comprehensive understanding of this powerful herb.
Licorice root may cause water retention, raise blood pressure and should not be combined with medications that are used for heart conditions. One must be extremely cautious when taking any pharmaceutical drugs with any herb, herbal preparation of supplement as harmful interactions can occur. These include OTC medications and prescription medications. When in doubt ask a herbalist, or wholistic therapist, or naturopath with training in herbology. Ensure that you provide your medical professional as well as your herbal advisor with a list of all the medications you are using at the time.
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A. Penn (c) June 2012