Licorice – Herbs For Alternative Medicine


Licorice is a perennial herb native to southern Europe, Asia and the Mediterranean. Tiny violet flowers that bloom in the summer distinguish this herb. It is one of the most popular and widely consumed medicinal herbs in the world.

Its sweet taste, alleged to be 50 times sweeter than sugar, masks the bitterness in any herbal mixture. It is an ingredient in many cough medicines and a popular and well-known remedy for bronchial distress.

It is a widely used ingredient in the food industry as well. The distinctive flavor of licorice makes it a popular additive to baked confections, liqueurs, ice cream and candies. It is also widely used in other medicines to mask bitter tastes and also to prevent pills from sticking together.

The main constituent found in the root is glycyrrhizin, which stimulates the secretion of the adrenal cortex hormone aldosterone. Glycyrrhizin has also been studied for it’s anti-viral properties in the treatment of AIDS. In clinical trials in Japan it prevented progression of the HIV virus by inhibiting cell infection and inducing interferon activity. Glycyrrhizin also encourages the production of hormones such as hydrocortisone which give it anti-inflammatory properties.

It can be as effective as codeine, and safer, when used as a cough suppressant. Rhizomes in licorice have a high mucilage content which, when mixed with water or used in cough drops, soothes irritated mucous membranes.

Claims and Common Uses:

  • Reduces pain and stiffness from arthritis and rheumatism.
  • Exhibits anti-viral activity and may be beneficial in treating the common cold, viral hepatitis, and AIDS
  • Cleanses the colon and decreases muscular spasms
  • Beneficial for cough, sore throat, hoarseness, throat irritations, lung congestion, and bronchitis, colic, heartburn, digestive disorders, hepatitis, cirrhosis, allergic disorders, asthma, chronic fatigue, depression, emphysema, fever and inflammatory bowel disorders
  • May help retard the growth of certain cancerous tumors
  • Use topically to relieve skin irritations such as skin infections, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and herpes sores (topical glycyrrhetinic acid)
  • Used in the prevention and/or treatment of stomach ulcers and canker sores (DGL or deglycyrrhizinated licorice only)
  • Regulates low blood sugar
  • Effective for Addison’s disease
  • Common component of many herbal teas as a mild laxative, a diuretic, and used for flatulence
  • Beneficial in treating symptoms of menstrual and menopausal disorders

Part Used: Dried runners and root.


Root in the making of powder, teas and tonics, extracts, tinctures and decoctions.

  • As a tea: Prepare by boiling 1 oz licorice root in 1 cup water for 15 to 20 minutes. Drink up to 2 cups daily.
  • As an antibiotic: Sprinkle licorice powder directly on the infection or sore.

Side Effects and Warnings of Licorice –considered an unsafe herb

  • Should not be used in pregnancy. It causes increased production of aldosterone, a hormone that regulates the salt and water balance of the body, resulting in a rise of blood pressure.
  • Do not use licorice root if you have diabetes, edema, heart disease, liver disorders, high blood pressure, kidney disease, severe menstrual problems, glaucoma or history of stroke.
  • May cause headaches, elevated blood pressure, hypertension, lethargy, upset stomach, diarrhea, facial puffiness, ankle swelling, edema (fluid retention), grogginess, weakness or shortness of breath.
  • Should not be used on a daily basis for more than seven days in a row as it can affect the body’s electrolyte balance, retaining sodium but depleting the body of potassium. This in turn can lead to high blood pressure and edema. Consult your practitioner for advice.
  • Monitoring of blood pressure and electrolytes and increasing potassium intake are suggested
  • Licorice candy does not offer the same benefits as preparations made from the root, but can cause an increase in blood pressure.
  • Women who suffer from PMS should not use licorice during PMS time due to its ability to cause water retention or bloating.
  • Do not use longer than 4-6 weeks.