Licorice Root - Side Effects and Benefits

Botanical Name of Licorice: Glycyrrhiza glabra

Other Common Names: Sweetwood, Sweetroot, Black Sugar, Liquorice, French-regliss, German-Lakritze, Italian-liquirizia, Spanish-regaliz, Indian-mulethi, European Licorice

Habitat: The licorice root is native to Southeastern Europe and cultivated in most of Europe. It prefers the open, dry areas with rich soil. It was first harvested from the wild, until it was cultivated one thousand years ago.

Plant Description: The licorice plant is erect, standing about 1.5 meters tall with spikes bearing lilac-colored flowers with bean-like pods containing three or four seeds. The main root (taproot) descends up to a meter into the ground and sends out a network of rhizomes. These roots and rhizomes are harvested after three to five years. The rhizomes have a woody appearance with a brown skin and yellow, fibrous interior.

Plant Parts Used: The main taproot and the rhizomes are used in medicinal and flavoring applications.

Therapeutic Uses, Benefits and Claims of The Licorice Root

* The licorice root is used in flavoring for its sweetness. The flavor often associated with licorice is actually anise. Licorice is added as a sweetener.
* The root was often given in ancient Rome for asthma, dry cough and other diseases of the lungs.
* Licorice shows promise as an expectorant (used to loosen and expel congestion in the upper airway.) It may also stimulate mucous production and secretion in the trachea.
* This herb has been shown to be soothing to irritated membranes and acts as an anti-inflammatory.
* The licorice root has also been used as antacid.
* Gastric ulcers are another target of this herb. Some countries have even experimented with licorice-coated aspirin to help reduce ulcers caused by aspirin use.
* The licorice root also helps promote adrenal function, supports lung health, and cleanses the colon.
* This herb has also been used for its throat-soothing qualities.
* Licorice may help combat some viruses such as Hepatitis B, influenza, and HIV by boosting the immune system and stimulating the production of interferon.
* It has also been shown to relieve rheumatism, arthritis, low blood sugar, menstrual cramps and regulating menstruation.

Dosage and Administration

Licorice may come in an extract format or in root form. The extract can come in teas, capsules, tablets, and in combination with other herbal remedies. Recommended dosage is 1 teaspoon (2-4 grams) of the root in a tea or other form daily.

Potential Side Effects of The Licorice Root

The side effects associated with licorice use include water retention, stomach pain, headache, shortness of breath and joint stiffness. Hypertension (high blood pressure) has also been associated with long term use of licorice at higher doses. The side effects do seem to be dose dependent, with smaller doses having less, or no, side effects. Licorice should not be used in conjunction with diuretics or digitalis glycoside heart medications. Due to the tendency to raise blood pressure and blood glucose levels, this herb should not be used by those with diabetes or hypertension. Persons with cirrhosis of the liver or impaired liver function should also avoid this herb.

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About The Author, Subodh Jain