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Licorice as an Herb

Licorice as an herb plant

Glycyrrhiza glabra

Licorice is more than just an ingredient in licorice sticks!

Other names: Indian Licorice, Wild Licorice, Prayer Beads, Crab's Eyes, Gunga, Goonteh, Rati

Hundreds of tons of Licorice are imported annually for commercial and medicinal purposes from Spain, Russia, Germany, France and the East, with most of our supply coming from Spain and Italy.

The use of the Licorice plant was first discovered by the Greeks from the Scythians. The Roman naturalist Theophrastus (c. 372c. 287 B.C.) wrote that the roots were used for asthma, dry cough, and lung disorders.

Licorice root extract appears to have been in common use in Germany during the Middle Ages. In 1264, Liqorice (apparently the extract, not the root) is charged in the Wardrobe Accounts of Henry IV. It is included in a list of drugs of the City of Frankfurt, written about the year 1450.

European licorice is the root of a member of the pea family native to Eurasia. Twenty species of Glycyrrhiza are found in Eurasia, North and South America, and Australia. At least six Chinese species are used as Chinese licorice root (gan-cao or sweet herb), primarily G. uralensis. Licorice is cultivated commercially in Europe and Asia.

Licorice is one of the better studied herbs. What we think of as "licorice" flavor is actually anise; licorice itself tastes very sweet and musty.

Licorice as an Herb for Medicinal Uses

The Licorice plant is described as being cultivated in Italy by Piero de Cresenzi of Bologna, who lived in the thirteenth century.

As a medicine, the drug was well known in Germany in the eleventh century, and an extensive cultivation of the plant was carried on in Bavaria in the sixteenth century. The extract is still termed 'Spanish Juice' because Spain formerly yielded most of its supply.

Today, German government allows licorice preparations to be used for the supportive treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers and for congestion of the upper respiratory tract.

Licorice is a popular and well-known remedy for coughs, consumption and chest complaints - notably bronchitis, and is an ingredient in almost all popular cough medicines on account of its valuable soothing properties. Its cough-suppressant activity resembles that of codeine.

Traditionally, dried licorice root has also been used for sore throat and laryngitis as well as inflammation of the urinary and intestinal tracts.

The sugar of Licorice may safely be taken by diabetic patients.

Black licorice is employed in the manufacture of tobacco for smoking and chewing.

Folk medicine. Licorice was used for chronic conjunctivitis and as a contraceptive in folk medicine, but is no longer used for these purposes.

Indian Medicine. Used for coughs as well as inflammations and conditions of the upper respiratory tract and lungs.

Chinese Medicine. The drug is used in hepatitis and bronchitis.

Modern Science on Licorice Use

Modern science has found that the plant has expectorant, anti-tussive, anti-cough, and anti-inflammatory properties (Youngkin and Israel 1996). According to the PDR for Herbal Medicines, contemporary research indicates that the plant does have anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, antiviral/antifungal, and other positive effects and it has been approved as a treatment for cough, bronchitis, and gastritis (Fleming 2000).

Culinary Uses of Licorice

Licorice is largely used by brewers, being added to porter and stout to give thickness and blackness.

Licorice sticks, or licorice twists can be impure, either from carelessness in its preparation, or from the fraudulent addition of other substances, such as starch, sand, carbonaceous matter, etc. Small particles of copper are also sometimes found in it. Red Vines are the original makers of Licorice Twists.

Licorice juice, known as Licorice Paste, is largely imported from Spain and Asia Minor, but on account of a certain bitterness is unsuited for its use as a sweetmeat or in medicine, and is principally used in the preparation of tobacco for chewing and smoking.


Individuals with heart disease, liver disease or hypertension should avoid licorice and it should not be used during pregnancy. If diuretics or heart medications containing digitalis have been prescribed, licorice should be avoided.

Licorice may cause some individuals to experience water retention and hypertension due to sodium retention and potassium loss. Do not exceed recommended dose.

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