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Although most of us were introduced to licorice sticks that we bought at the five-and-dime or the candy store as children, this ancient herb (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. Licorice (often spelled "liquorice" in ancient herbals) is a member of the legume family, whose cousins include beans, peas and the herb broom.
The chief constituent of Licorice and the agent that supplies the sweet taste, is glycyrrhizin. This is a sweet, white crystalline powder consisting of the calcium and potassium salts of glycyrrhizic acid. Other constituents include starch, gum, protein, fat, resin, asparagin, a trace of tannin, yellow coloring matter and a small amount of volatile oil.
Licorice is a popular remedy for cough, some complications of tuberculosis, and chest complaints in general, such as bronchitis. Because of its soothing properties, it often is used in cough medicines. It is also highly regarded as a soothing ingredient for sore throat and laryngitis.
Licorice contributes to the health of the kidneys, female reproductive system, stomach, spleen and the liver, according to Gae and Shandor Weiss in Growing and Using Healing Herbs. About two thirds of all Chinese herbal formulas incorporate licorice, they said.
"Because of its perceived positive influence on the hormonal system, the Chinese have also used licorice to strengthen and balance the female reproductive system; they said. "Licorice contains compounds similar to those found in ginseng and sarsaparilla, which are thought to help the adrenal glands function more smoothly in conditions of stress and exhaustion. Because of this quality, naturopaths have used licorice in treating hypoglycemia, diabetes and Addison's disease [a malfunction of the adrenal glands, which secrete various hormones.
Licorice is considered ideal for patients who are dehydrated or thin, but not for people with edema, pregnant women in the last trimester, or people who are overweight because of water retention, the authors said.
"These restrictions should always be kept in mind when licorice is used, they wrote. "Also, to be safe, if you have high blood pressure or heart trouble, do avoid large amounts of licorice. The over consumption of candies containing licorice extract has caused some people to develop symptoms of edema and related problems. Accordingly, the Food and Drug Administration is now investigating the use of licorice extract in candy making, with a view toward setting industry standards. For someone with knowledge of the properties of licorice, the herb should pose no problem, if used cautiously. The Chinese, who have been using licorice for thousands of years, consider it one of the safest herbs."
Licorice grows wild in North America as Glycyrrhiza lepidota, one of numerous species of this plant. The Blackfoot Indians of the Dakotas steeped the leaves of wild licorice plants in hot water and used this infusion to treat earache, according to the Weisses. And various American tribes ate the root both fresh and roasted. Today, in Appalachia and other parts of rural America, children chew licorice root as a treat.
Glycvrrhizin, a saponin in licorice root, is effective as an anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic agent, which inhibits virus growth and inactivates virus particles and promotes interferon activity, according to Herbal Gram.
Various derivatives of glycyrrhizin have also been shown to prevent gastric ulcers and heal ulcers, and are administered as a remedy for chronic hepatitis, according to the publication. As one potential mechanism of action, glycyrrhizin has been shown to inhibit prostaglandin E2 production by macrophages. New research shows that derivatives of glycyrhetinic acid also inhibit two enzymes which are involved in asthma, allergic disease and inflammation.
Large amounts of licorice should be avoided, according to the publication, since the herb can deplete your body of potassium, causing an electrolyte imbalance.
Japanese researchers recently have shown that a licorice extract is effective against the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, according to Laurence Badgley, M.D., in Healing AIDS Naturally. And in China, where licorice is commonly called gan cao (sweet weed) Chinese doctors have long used the herb for gastric ulcers and arthritis, he said.
Licorice will help take away your sugar craves. It has helpd people stop smoking.
Licorice (100 capsules)
Licorice ATC (50 capsules, concentrate)
Licorice Extract (2 oz)