Licorice is well known as a confectionery flavoring, especially in Licorice candy. However, licorice candy, although taste really good, rarely has more than 2% natural licorice extract, often the flavor comes from anise or a synthetic substitute. The name Licorice is Greek in origin, glyks, meaning sweet and rhiza meaning root. It is the rhizomes (underground stems) and roots that are used as flavorings. The root descends about 3 feet underground, sending out an extensive network of rhizomes, which are grown for three to five years before they are harvested.

The dried roots look like pieces of dried wood, very hard and fibrous. Along with being available as dried, woody pieces of root, it is also found as a powder and solid sticks of concentrated essence that are glossy black, sweet and partially water-soluble. The dried root need only be kept dry and will store indefinitely. It can be sliced or ground before using. Powdered licorice should be kept in airtight containers.

There are over a dozen varieties of licorice, the roots vary in degrees of sweetness to a sharp almost peppery flavor. If you don't like one, try another. Licorice root can be chewed or made into tea.

In addition to being used as flavoring in food, tobacco, alcohol, and cosmetics. Licorice has long been believed to provide wonderful health benefits as well.

Licorice can be chewed to relieve a sore throat and gargling with an infusion of the root relieves a dry cough and oral inflammations. It can also help soothe irritation caused by acids.

Supplements containing therapeutic amounts of licorice come in two forms: either with glycyrrhizin, or without glycyrrhizin, a form known as deglycyrrhizinated licorice, or DGL.

Glycyrrhizin exerts numerous beneficial effects on the body, making licorice a valuable herb for treating a host of ailments. It can help reduce inflammation and also appears to enhance immunity by boosting levels of interferon, a key immune system chemical that fights off attacking viruses.

Licorice root also contains powerful antioxidants as well as certain phytoestrogens that can perform some of the functions of the body's natural estrogens making the herb potentially useful in easing certain symptoms of PMS, such as irritability, bloating, and breast tenderness. Although the glycyrrhizin in licorice actually inhibits the effect of the body's own estrogens, the mild estrogenic effect produced by licorice's phytoestrogens manages to override this inhibiting action.

DGL, on the other hand, protects the digestive tract from corrosive stomach acids by stimulating the production of substances that coat the stomach and esophagus. This characteristic makes it useful for a whole different group of ailments. In fact, traditional Chinese medicine uses licorice to protect the digestive system from the harsher effects of other herbs.

Licorice cream applied directly to irritated skin can help to reduce inflammation and relieve such symptoms as itching and burning. It also boosts the effectiveness of cortisone creams.

Interestingly, licorice also has an ancient reputation as an aphrodisiac; the Kama Sutra and Ananga Ranga contain numerous recipes for increasing sexual vigor, which include licorice.

Some caution should be taken, large or frequent doses of licorice can lead to acute hypertension and it is not recommended during pregnancy.

Melanie Tooker


This article is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for any medical conditions. You should promptly seek professional medical advice if you have any concern about your health or physical condition, and you should always consult your physician before following the recommendations presented here.  


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