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Licorice and Its Many Uses

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra; Fabaceae) is a perennial herb found in temperate regions and cultivated in Mediterranean countries and parts of Asia Minor. Also known as "sweet root," licorice root contains a compound that is about 50 times sweeter than sugar. Licorice root has been used as a medicine and flavoring agent for over 3,000 years. In traditional Chinese medicine, it has been used as a tonic, mucolytic, expectorant, and analgesic in gastrointestinal disorders. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is used as a demulcent, expectorant, diuretic, rejuvenative, emmenagogue, sedative, and gentle laxative. It is said to calm the mind and nurture the spirit. Licorice nourishes the brain and increases cranial and cerebrospinal fluid. It is thought to improve voice, vision, hair, and complexion in Ayurvedic tradition.

Active constituents in licorice can have antiviral, anti-inflammatory, chemoprotective, antihepatotoxic, emollient, hormonal-adrenal, and hypertensive actions. Therapeutic uses of licorice have included treatment of ulcers, Addison's disease, inflammation, menstrual infrequency, respiratory ailments, both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, and liver disease (See HC 051231-449).

Licorice root has also been used for peptic ulcers, canker sores, indigestion, and weight loss. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) has been suggested as a treatment for stomach ulcers, although studies have provided mixed results. A few studies have found that DGL and antacids helped to treat ulcers as effectively as some prescription drugs. One small study found that people with canker sores who gargled 4 times per day with DGL dissolved in warm water experienced pain relief. Licorice biopatches have also been found to relieve inflammation associated with canker sores (See HC 110584-372). Some studies suggest that an herbal formula containing several herbs including licorice, Iberogast® (STW 5; Steigerwald Arzneimittelwerk GmbH; Darmstadt, Germany), may help relieve symptoms of indigestion (See HC 020586-357). Another study found the licorice formula GutGard® (Natural Remedies Pvt. Ltd.; Bangalore, India) to be efficacious in relieving functional dyspepsia symptoms (See HC 081171-436). Studies have found that licorice preparations and licorice flavonoid oil may reduce body fat. Subjects who took 900 mg of licorice flavonoid oil daily for 8 weeks had decreases in body fat, body weight, body mass index, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (See HC 090194-393). Taking licorice long term can result in certain health risks, including sodium and water retention and potassium loss.

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor