Licorice is a perennial herb native to southern Europe, Asia and the
Mediterranean. The herb is extensively cultivated in Russia, Spain, Iran and
India. Licorice is one of the most popular and widely consumed herbs in the
Although many know this herb for its flavoring in candy, licorice contains many
health benefits. Ancient cultures on every continent have used licorice, the first
recorded use by the Egyptians in the 3rd century BC. The Egyptians and the
Greeks recognized the licorice herb's benefits in treating coughs and lung
disease. Licorice is the second most prescribed herb in China followed by
ginseng, it is suggested for treatment of the spleen, liver and kidney. The
Japanese use a licorice preparation to treat hepatitis.
The most common medical use for licorice is for treating upper respiratory
ailments including coughs, hoarseness, sore throat, and bronchitis.
The main constituent found in the root is glycyrrhizin. The plant also contains
various sugars (14%), starches (30%), flavonoids, saponoids, sterols, amino
acids, gums, and essential oil. Glycyrrhizin, stimulates the secretion of the
adrenal cortex hormone aldosterone.
Licorice can be as effective as codeine, and safer, when used as a cough
suppressant. Rhizomes in licorice have a high mucilage content which, when mixed
with water or used in cough drops, sooths irritated mucous membranes. The drug
also has an expectorant effect which increases the secretion of the bronchial
glands. Licorice is an effective remedy for throat irritations, lung congestion,
Homeopathic use of licorice for gastric irritation dates back to the first century.
Today, herbal preparations are used to treat stomach and intestinal ulcers,
lower acid levels and coat the stomach wall with a protective gel. Rarely used
alone, licorice is a common component of many herbal teas as mild laxative, a
diuretic, and for flatulence. Licorice has also been known to relieve rheumatism
and arthritis, regulate low blood sugar, and is effective for Addison's
disease. The licorice root extract produces mild estrogenic effects, and it has
proven useful in treating symptoms of menopause, regulating menstruation, and
relieving menstrual cramps.
The main ingredient in licorice glycyrrhizin has also been studied for it's
anti-viral properties in the treatment of AIDS. In clinical trials in Japan it
prevented progression of the HIV virus by inhibiting cell infection and inducing
interferon activity. Glycyrrhizin also encourages the production of hormones such
as hydrocortisone which give it anti-inflammatory properties. Like cortisone it
can relieve arthritic and allergy symptoms, without the side effects.
The constituent glycyrrhizin is 50 times sweeter than sugar, making it a widely
used ingredient in the food industry. The distinctive flavor of licorice makes it a
popular additive to baked confections, liqueurs, ice cream and candies. Licorice is
also widely used in other medicines to mask bitter tastes and also to prevent
pills from sticking together.
Licorice has also been used in poultices for treatment of dermatitis and skin
infections. It helps to open the pores and is used in combination with other
cleansing and healing herbs as an emollient.
Common Use: Licorice is an ingredient in many cough medicines and a popular and
well known remedy for bronchial distress. Licorice can have a beneficial effect
on gastric disturbances.
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