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Licorice Root-Sweet Healing

Updated on October 30, 2007
The Licorice Plant
The Licorice Plant

If someone says "licorice", most people think "red or black"? Well, licorice is actually a very strong medicinal herb, which has been the subject of both study and controversy for years.

Ironically, at least in America, you would have difficulty finding any real licorice in your licorice candy. The vast majority of black licorice is artificially flavored or flavored with anise--not licorice, and red licorice is not really licorice at all--to a traditionalist.

Licorice was used by ancient herbalists in both Western and Chinese civilizations to treat many problems including respiratory ailments and ulcers. It is still found in certain cough preparations today. It has cough suppressive effects and is moisturizing and soothing to coughs and for sore throats.

One of the compounds contained in licorice is glycyrrhizin. Glycyrrhizin is the component the gives licorice it's sweetness, and it is in fact 50 times sweeter than sugar. The other important component of licorice is glycyrrhetinic acid. In animal studies, the combination of these two compounds has been shown to increase the body's supply of interferon. Interferon is a powerful antiviral agent that works by suppressing a virus's ability to replicate. It also has a side benefit of stimulating certain other beneficial immune cells in the body.

About half of all Chinese herbal formulas incorporate licorice in their blends. The Chinese feel it is a "harmonizing herb". This is to say that it works to reduce the toxicity potential of the other herbs in the formula and to increase their effectiveness.

Licorice is also useful externally in cream form. Isolating the glycyrrhetinic acid and using it in a cream, topically for eczema and psoriasis has been quite useful. In fact the results have been similar to those of topical corticosteroids. Some studies have even pointed to it being slightly superior.

It can also have a balancing effect on hormones (estrogen and progesterone in particular) which can be especially effective in formulas for PMS or menopause.

One of licorice's classic uses is in the treatment of ulcers. It has been proven in several studies, that licorice is as effective as the ulcer medication Tagamet (generic: cimetidine). What is most important to glean from these studies however, is that licorices action is slightly different than the drug action. Generally, the drugs work by suppressing stomach acid. Licorice on the other hand, works to heal the ulcers themselves. Stomach acid does serve a purpose in the human body, and too much suppression of it can lead to other problems. The form used for this ( and strongly encouraged ) is the deglycyrrhizinated licorice or DGL form. This is the "safe" form of licorice. I will expand on this in a moment.

Licorice is found in formulas for inflammatory bowel disease ( aka IBS ), Crohn's Disease, and ulcerative colitis. It is found in formulas for detoxing the liver and in preparations used for treating mouth sores.

Licorice does have a downside that one needs to consider. Taking large amounts of licorice can lead to some serious side effects such as high blood pressure, water retention (edema), and weakness.

This usually comes from eating virtually pounds of the real licorice candy or swallowing the saliva from licorice flavored chewing tobacco.

It is fairly easy to avoid this, keep the dosage down. Another way to avoid it is to use the "safe" licorice. The DGL (deglycyrrhizinated) form of licorice gives almost all of the healing properties without the dangers.

If you have any concerns with high blood pressure, are pregnant, are hypokalemic (low serum potassium levels), or have kidney should NOT take licorice root.

A reasonable dosage for most conditions is as follows:

In capsule form --- 1,000 up to 3,000 milligrams per day, though I would not take 3,000mg for an extended period of time

In tincture form --- 10 to 30 drops two possibly three times per day

DGL can be purchased as a tablet. Chew one or two tablets which is 380 milligrams per tablet 20 minutes to a half hour before a meal or 2 hours after a meal.

There is another way to just enjoy licorice root. It makes a wonderfully sweet and soothing tea. Try it out the next time you have a cough or sore throat. Simply sprinkle a bit of the powdered herb into some hot water or your favorite tea.

Licorice Root

Licorice Tea


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      alexandra bebout 6 years ago

      i would assume you wrote this article yourself, and please post the uses of licorice for open wounds, nerves, or trauma???

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      Lisa 7 years ago

      I've had symptoms of IBS or crohn's for over 8 months and while I continue to be evaluted by doctors I have been craving black licorice and I wondered why. Now, I realize how wise my body can be. My symptoms quell when I eat the licorice. I just so happen to have chosen a brand with real licorice root in it.