Nutritional and Health Benefits of Licorice Root

Updated on September 29, 2018
rajan jolly profile image

Rajan is a botany and chemistry major. He has worked as a poultry breeder for 23 years, breeding layer and broiler parents.

Source

General Information About the Licorice Plant

Latin name: Glycyrrhiza glabra

Licorice (American English), or liquorice (British English), is also known as the sweet root, Spanish licorice, and the peacemaker herb. In India, it is called Mulethi. The plant is native to Asia and southern Europe.

The sweet taste of licorice comes from the molecule glycyrrhizin, which is about 50 times sweeter than sugar. Its pleasant smell comes from the volatile oils (essential oils) it contains.

The roots of the licorice plant are straight and round and grow horizontally underground. They are brown on the outside and have a yellow tint on the inside. The fresh root is about 50% water while the dried root is only about 10% water.

Common Uses of Licorice

Licorice has been used in both Eastern and Western medicine for thousands of years. In Ayurvedic medicine, licorice has been used since ancient times. Its uses are mentioned in ancient Ayurvedic texts like Charak Samhita, Sushruta, and Ashtanghvday.

The root stays good for roughly two years after harvest. It is available in teas, tablets, capsules, as dried roots, and as liquid extracts.

It is also used to make candies, sweets, herbal infusions, soft drinks, liquor, and some tobacco products to enhance the flavor and taste. It is also used as a spice.

A flower of the Glycyrrhiza glabra.
A flower of the Glycyrrhiza glabra. | Source

Nutrients in Licorice

Licorice contains many nutrients including the following:

  • Glycyrrhizic acid, one the main active constituents
  • Isoflavones, a phytoestrogen (plant equivalent of estrogen)
  • Saponins
  • Flavonoids, another active constituent
  • Sugars and starches
  • Several amino acids
  • Gums
  • Essential oils
  • Minerals like manganese and phosphorus
  • B vitamins

Health Benefits of Licorice

Licorice is an amazing herb that is claimed to have a wide range of health benefits. Like with many other claims of natural remedies, those of the licorice plant require more studies for confirmation. However, numerous studies have been done which support the various health claims. Here are some of the reported benefits.

Metabolic Health

Infections

Licorice contains many antiviral and antibacterial components.

  • Hepatitis B
    • One study states that glycyrrhizin is commonly used in Japan to treat hepatitis B, supporting liver health and occasionally resulting in full recovery. The study elucidated a possible mechanism by which glycyrrhizin acts and suggests a therapeutic benefit when used intravenously.
  • Herpes
  • HIV

Source

Oral Health

  • Reduces Canker Sores
  • Supports Dental Health
    • In Ayurvedic medicine, licorice root extract is believed to be antibacterial and is used to prevent plaque formation and cavities.
    • A recent study shows that deglycyrrhizinated licorice root extract has antimicrobial action against Streptococcus mutans and prevents biofilm and plaque formation.
    • Aside from the taste, this is another reason why licorice extract is used in many kinds of toothpaste and mouthwashes.

Women's Reproductive Health

  • Licorice reduces serum testosterone levels in females, and when used as a complement to traditional therapies, may help treat hirsutism (growth of facial, chest, and back hair in women) and polycystic ovary syndrome (enlarged ovaries and growth of small cysts around the ovaries due to hormonal imbalances).
  • Menopause and PMS
    • One study indicates that licorice treats symptoms of menopause and premenstrual syndrome. It suggests that isoflavone, a phytoestrogen, helps balance estrogen and progesterone levels in the body.

Cancer

Source

Other Health Benefits

  • Gastric Ulcers
    • Reports from the University of Maryland Medical Center site studies which suggest deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) may help reduce inflammation and irritation of the gut lining.
    • It is unclear whether the benefits were from the DGL alone since it was used in combination with antacids.
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
    • Dr. Daivati Bharadvaj, a holistic medicine practitioner, cites studies in his book, Natural Treatments of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, that show licorice root is better than hydrocortisone for treating CFS because it sustains the action of the cortisol released by the body rather than introducing new cortisol. This avoids the suppression of the adrenal glands seen with long-term use of hydrocortisone.
  • Atherosclerosis
    • Antioxidants in licorice may help prevent atherosclerosis by reducing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, an important step leading to the formation of arterial blockages.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
    • An investigative study suggests two components in licorice, glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhizetinic acid, may alleviate symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis through their anti-inflammatory action. These two components may be beneficial when used in addition to other treatments prescribed by your doctor.
  • Coughing and Asthma

Precautions and Side Effects of Licorice

Although we've discussed how licorice can be beneficial for a variety of health conditions, keep in mind that most of the studies used isolated constituents of the licorice plant, meaning eating taking a bunch of licorice may not show any benefits and can even present harmful side effects. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) often presents fewer side effects and is gentler on the stomach.

If you are thinking about taking licorice, talk to your doctor first.

Side Effects

Although the side effects usually occur with very high doses of licorice—especially of glycyrrhizin—even at normal doses, some may still experience:

  • Headaches
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Edema
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular menses
  • Kidney disorders
  • Changes in testosterone levels in men

You should not consume licorice if you have:

  • High blood pressure
  • Liver disease
  • Low potassium levels
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease
  • Hormone-sensitive cancers
  • Fluid retention or edema

It is also contraindicated in those who take prescriptions containing digoxin, ACE inhibitors, corticosteroids, insulin and other diabetic drugs, diuretics, warfarin, laxatives, or any medicines processed by the liver.

Pregnant women and nursing mothers should also avoid it.

Again, talk to your doctor before using licorice as a treatment.

Disclaimer

The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your physician or another healthcare provider before taking any home remedies, supplements, or starting a new health regimen.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2013 Rajan Singh Jolly

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    • rajan jolly profile imageAUTHOR

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      @ Devika - Thanks for the visit and comments.

      @ moronkee - i'm not aware whether it grows in Ghana or not. But you can always get the dried roots anywhere. Thanks for stopping by.

      @ Marlene - these different colored liquorice sticks are basically candy which is not the real thing. At the most some have liquorice extract added to the candy. Thanks for visitng.

      @ moonlake - thanks for the visit and support.

      @ Anthony - Thanks and glad you like the info.

    • Anthony Binks profile image

      Anthony Binks 

      5 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Crikkey Liquorice has a lot of good benefits. I love it but the wife can't stand it, now that I know it is fairly good for you I will be getting her to eat some more.

      Nice Hub.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 

      5 years ago from America

      I've always like licorice candies but never thought about where it came from. Interesting hub voted up.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 

      5 years ago from USA

      Wow! I didn't know licorice had so many benefits and I did not know licorice came in so many colors. The only colors I have ever seen are red and black.

    • moronkee profile image

      Moronke Oluwatoyin 

      5 years ago

      I don't know if the picture of liquorice is similar to the one I use as chewing stick.It really does cure toothache.

      Is it grown in West Africa?

      Thanks for writing.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I like licorice but had no idea of the many benefits, I am always interested in learning something new thanks for this information. Voted Up!

    • rajan jolly profile imageAUTHOR

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      @ Carol - we do not get red licorice here and from what I've read it seems it is a variety of red colored candy that is called red licorice and rarely contains licorice extract.

      Thanks for visiting.

      @ Graham - I'm glad you like the info. Thanks.

      @ Margaret - nice to know you like the info. Thank you.

      @ younghopes - thanks for the info. I'll check out the link.

      @ Bill - thanks, my friend.

      @ wetnosedogs - maybe you could check on that but you could always get the dried roots. Thanks for sparing time to read.

      @ bdegiulio - thanks for visiting.

      @ Joe - thank you for reading my hubs regularly.

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 

      5 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      Very well done, my friend! I can't wait to tell my wife about the health benefits licorice has. She loves licorice but, like me, probably had no clue that it had so many medicinal qualities.

      Thank you for sharing!

      Best regards,

      Joe

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 

      5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi rajan. Very interesting. Was not aware of all of the health benefits of liquorice. I learned something new today. Thanks.

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 

      5 years ago from Alabama

      Oh, I wonder if licorice would grow in the south here. That would be an awesome plant to have.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      The information on the side effects was very interesting. I love licorice and fortunately I do not have high blood pressure, so I'll keep right on eating it. Thanks for the great facts.

    • younghopes profile image

      Shadaan Alam 

      5 years ago from India

      a pleasure to read such an indepth and well researched article. You really write it to the fullest, i have heard that it is also effective in treating baldness issues also. On yet another note, i just wish to inform you that one of your link is showing a wrong heading: Health Benefits Of Karela Or Bitter Melon is shown twice though one of the links is on sunflower seeds. Please do check that,

      thanks for article, voted up!

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 

      5 years ago from San Antonio, FL

      I didn't know that licorice has any health benefits, and I was surprised at how many things it can be used for. Very thorough and well written hub - voted up, interesting, useful and shared.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      5 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi rajan. I seem only to repeat myself, another first class hub in presentation and massive informative content. Your videos add much to your text. The links enclosed are exceptional.

      Voted up and all.

      Graham.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      5 years ago from Arizona

      most interesting and never knew of health benefits. However I really like red licorice..does that count? Thanks for doing great research as always and have a healthy day. Voting up and sharing.

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