Rajan is a botany and chemistry major. He has worked as a poultry breeder for 23 years, breeding layer and broiler parents.
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 liquorice, and the peacemaker herb. In India, it is called Mulethi. The plant is native to Asia and southern Europe.
The sweet taste of liquorice 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 liquorice 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
Liquorice has been used in both Eastern and Western medicine for thousands of years. In Ayurvedic medicine, it 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, and as dried roots and liquid extracts.
It is also used to make candies, sweets, herbal infusions, soft drinks, liquor, and some tobacco products to enhance flavour and taste. It is also used as a spice.
Nutrients in Liquorice
Liquorice contains many nutrients including the following:
- Glycyrrhizic acid, one of the main active constituents
- Isoflavones, a phytoestrogen (the plant equivalent of estrogen)
- Flavonoids, another active constituent
- Sugars and starches
- Several amino acids
- Essential oils
- Minerals like manganese and phosphorus
- B vitamins
Health Benefits of Liquorice
Liquorice 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 liquorice 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.
- May Treat and Prevent Diabetes
- Liquorice root contains an antidiabetic substance, amorfrutine, that has anti-inflammatory properties. Amorfrutine was found to help reduce blood sugar levels and can prevent the development of insulin resistance.
- Another study found that a different molecule, glabridin, protects nerve cells and prevents cognitive decline in diabetes and other neuropathic conditions.
- Roasted liquorice may also treat and prevent diabetic nephropathy (kidney damage due to diabetes).
- According to one study, liquorice flavonoid oil reduced abdominal adipose tissue and triglyceride levels in the plasma in rats fed a high-fat diet, suggesting that it has anti-obesity effects.
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.
- An in vitro study demonstrated that glycyrrhizin can potentially stop the replication of an HIV variant, although more studies are needed to confirm and fully understand the efficacy of liquorice in treating HIV.
- Reduces Canker Sores
- The liquorice root extract has been reported to reduce the size and pain of the ulcers in cases of recurrent canker sores.
- Supports Dental Health
- In Ayurvedic medicine, liquorice root extract is believed to be antibacterial and is used to prevent plaque formation and cavities.
- A recent study shows that deglycyrrhizinated liquorice root extract has antimicrobial action against Streptococcus mutans and prevents biofilm and plaque formation.
- Aside from the taste, this is another reason why liquorice extract is used in many kinds of toothpaste and mouthwashes.
Women's Reproductive Health
- Liquorice 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).
- May Reduce Cancer Growth
- Studies have shown that liquorice can control and reduce the growth of human breast cancer cells and rat colon cancer cells by promoting cell death.
- Other studies show that liquorice has anti-tumour activity. It reduces the toxicity caused by chemotherapy and also prevents tumour proliferation.
- Liquorice extract can also help in cases of chronic prostatitis, possibly by reducing inflammation, and prostate cancer, also by promoting cell death.
Other Health Benefits
- Liver Protection
- Gastric Ulcers
- Reports from the University of Maryland Medical Center site studies which suggest deglycyrrhizinated liquorice (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 liquorice 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.
- Antioxidants in liquorice 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 liquorice, 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 Liquorice
Although we've discussed how liquorice can be beneficial for a variety of health conditions, keep in mind that most of the studies used isolated constituents of the liquorice plant, meaning eating taking a bunch of liquorice may not show any benefits and can even present harmful side effects. Deglycyrrhizinated liquorice (DGL) often presents fewer side effects and is gentler on the stomach.
If you are thinking about taking liquorice, talk to your doctor first.
Although the side effects usually occur with very high doses of liquorice—especially of glycyrrhizin—even at normal doses, some may still experience:
- Elevated blood pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Irregular menses
- Kidney disorders
- Changes in testosterone levels in men
You should not consume liquorice if you have:
- High blood pressure
- Liver disease
- Low potassium levels
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
- Hormone-sensitive cancers
- Fluid retention or oedema
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 liquorice as a treatment.
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
Rajan Singh Jolly (author) from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on January 30, 2019:
Thank you for appreciating the information, Peggy.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 25, 2019:
What a fascinating article about licorice! I never thought about the source of the candy licorice of which I am familiar. We enjoyed black and red licorice candy as an occasional treat when growing up. Seeing the roots of the plant as well as that pretty blossom was delightful to see. Reading about the many health benefits as well as precautions was very informative. Thanks for adding to my base of knowledge today.
Rajan Singh Jolly (author) from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on March 05, 2013:
@ 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 from Northern Ireland on March 05, 2013:
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.
moonlake from America on March 04, 2013:
I've always like licorice candies but never thought about where it came from. Interesting hub voted up.
Marlene Bertrand from USA on March 04, 2013:
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.
Moronke Oluwatoyin on March 04, 2013:
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.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 04, 2013:
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 Singh Jolly (author) from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on March 03, 2013:
@ 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.
Hawaiian Odysseus from Southeast Washington state on March 03, 2013:
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!
Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on March 03, 2013:
Hi rajan. Very interesting. Was not aware of all of the health benefits of liquorice. I learned something new today. Thanks.
wetnosedogs from Alabama on March 03, 2013:
Oh, I wonder if licorice would grow in the south here. That would be an awesome plant to have.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 03, 2013:
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.
Shadaan Alam from India on March 03, 2013:
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!
Margaret Perrottet from San Antonio, FL on March 03, 2013:
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.
Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on March 03, 2013:
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.
carol stanley from Arizona on March 03, 2013:
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.