Licorice, also known as ‘Mulethi,’ is a perennial herb from the legume family, indigenous to Europe and Asia.
Over the years, licorice has come to be synonymous with candies as it is widely used as a flavoring agent in sweets, chewing gum, toothpaste, and even beverages like soft drinks and beer. But there’s more to this herb than just taste.
The therapeutic properties of licorice add a whole new dimension to its uses and value, so much so that they have been tapped for centuries by a great many civilizations dating back to the Chinese, the Egyptians, and even the ancient Greeks and Arabs.
The dried root of this plant, in particular, is famed for its medicinal benefits across the world still. In fact, licorice is considered a premium quality adjuvant that helps assist and enhance the effects of other components in herbal concoctions as well as amplify the positive effect of other remedies when used in tandem.
One of the main constituents of licorice is glycyrrhizin, which is responsible for making it up to 50 times sweeter than regular table sugar.
Prolonged and excessive use of licorice containing glycyrrhizic acid or glycyrrhizin can engender adverse health effects such as elevated blood pressure, low potassium levels, and edema, among other issues, deglycyrrhizinated licorice is the preferred variety for maximizing its pharmacological potential.
Nutritional Value of Licorice Roots
Moreover, licorice also contains a wide range of nutrients and flavonoids. It is a good source of B vitamins and vitamin E. It also contains minerals such as phosphorous, calcium, choline, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, silicon, and zinc.
In addition, it is power packed with many essential phytonutrients, including beta-carotene, thymol, phenol, and quercetin.(13)
Nutritional value of licorice roots per 100 grams:
- Energy – 281 kcal
- Protein – 3.12 g
- Carbohydrate – 71.88 g
- Fiber, total dietary – 0.00 g
- Sugars, total – 50.00 g
- Iron – 1.12 mg
- Vitamin A – 312 IU
Its medicinal use is mainly due to its expectorant, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, antiulcer, laxative, antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial, antioxidant, and antitumor properties.
Licorice root is readily available in the market in different forms including licorice sticks, dried root, powder, extract, or capsule. However, it is recommended to consult your doctor before using this herb as a medical aid.
- Avoid taking large amounts of licorice for longer than two weeks, as it can be harmful. It may cause side effects such as high blood pressure, fluid retention, and metabolism abnormalities.
- If you have diabetes, kidney disease, liver dysfunction, or low potassium levels, avoid this herb altogether.
- People with cardiovascular ailments, hypertension, or those who consume a lot of salty foods, even a paltry 5 grams of licorice can cause detrimental side effects such as cardiac arrhythmia, spikes in blood pressure, tiredness, water and sodium retention, menstrual issues, paralysis and even some degree of brain damage.
- People with renal disease might worsen their condition by overusing licorice, and therefore should exercise restraint and precaution.
- Licorice mimics the action of estrogen in the body and thus can worsen certain hormone-sensitive conditions such as ovarian, breast and uterine cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids. People suffering from any of these conditions should steer clear of licorice.
- If you are about to undergo surgery in the near future, it’s best to avoid using licorice 2 weeks before the scheduled date. Licorice can cause your blood pressure to shoot during and after surgery, which might prove too extreme for your vulnerable body to handle.
- Excessive consumption of licorice can decrease libido in men and deteriorate erectile dysfunction in men by decreasing the secretion of testosterone.
- If you already suffer from hypokalemia or low blood potassium, licorice use can further plummet your potassium levels and therefore should be avoided.
- This herb is not suitable for pregnant women as it can raise the risk of premature delivery. Moreover, licorice is also not recommended forbreastfeeding women as well as infants.
Glycyrrhizin-containing licorice may negatively interact with a number of drugs, including:
- estrogen pills
- medications that are altered or broken down by the liver such as ketoconazole (Nizoral),lovastatin (Mevacor),triazolam (Halcion),itraconazole (Sporanox), among others
- antihypertensive drugs
- blood-thinning medications
- medications that alter blood potassium levels such as Furosemide (Lasix), Ethacrynic Acid (Edecrin),Digoxin (Lanoxin)
If you are on any such drugs, consult your healthcare practitioner before taking this herb.
Merits of Including Licorice in Your Diet
Here are 10 health benefits of licorice root.
1. Combats Digestive Ailments
Licorice root is helpful in treating a plethora of digestive problems, such as constipation, acidity, heartburn, stomach ulcers, inflammation of the lining of the stomach, and acid reflux. Its mild laxative effect plays a key role in regulating bowel movements.
Its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties also help reduce inflammation in the stomach and protect the stomach’s inner lining from infection. Licorice is also found helpful in treating dyspepsia-related discomforts, such as nausea, indigestion, and stomach pains.
A 2013 study, published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, highlights the healing effect of licorice on Helicobacter pylori-infected peptic ulcers by mitigating the growth of bacteria.(1)
- As a digestive aid, add 1 teaspoon of licorice powder to a cup of hot water. Cover, steep for 10 minutes, and strain it. Drink this tea 2 or 3 times a day for a week.
- You can also take 250 mg to 500 mg of standardized deglycyrrhizinated licorice 3 times a day, after consulting your doctor.
2. Fights Respiratory Infections
This herb may alleviate respiratory tract infections, such as a sore throat, cold, cough, and asthma. Licorice works as a demulcent to bring relief to a sore throat as its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties help reduce inflammation of the bronchial tubes and calm the airways.(2) I
t even loosens and thins the mucus that clogs the airways and helps facilitate its expulsion through coughing to relieve congestion.
In addition, its antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antiviral properties fight microbes that cause respiratory illnesses and the overproduction of mucus.
- When suffering from respiratory problems, drink a few cups of licorice root tea until you get relief from the symptoms.
- You can also mix ½ teaspoon of licorice powder with a little honey and have it twice daily for a few days.
- To soothe throat irritation, you can suck on some licorice candies.
3. Heals Canker Sores
- Chew a couple of 200 mg deglycyrrhizinated licorice capsules two or three times a day.
- You can also dissolve a few deglycyrrhizinated licorice pills in water and gargle with it four times a day.
4. Protects Your Liver
Licorice also helps treat liver disorders, such as jaundice, hepatitis, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Its natural antioxidant property protects the liver from damage due to free radicals and toxic materials. Also, its anti-inflammatory property helps soothe liver inflammation due to hepatitis.
A 2012 study published in the Phytotherapy Research Journal found licorice root extract to be helpful in the treatment of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.(4)
- Drink a cup of licorice root tea to promote liver health. To make the tea, add ½ teaspoon of licorice root to 1 cup of hot water. Cover, steep for 5 to 10 minutes, and strain it. Drink this tea once daily for a week, take a break for a couple of weeks and then repeat.
- You can also take licorice supplements, but only after consulting your doctor.
5. Aids Weight Reduction
Obesity is a serious condition that you can combat with licorice.(5) The flavonoids in this herb help reduce excessive fat accumulation in the body.
In a 2009 study published in the Obesity Research and Clinical Practice Journal, researchers found that licorice flavonoid oil helps reduce total body fat and visceral fat in overweight people.(6) Those who took 900 mg of the oil daily for eight weeks noticed a significant decrease in visceral fat area, body weight, body mass index (BMI), and bad (low-density lipoprotein or LDL) cholesterol.
Thus, consuming licorice or licorice flavonoid oil can be conducive to the prevention and treatment of obesity. However, if you are looking to reap the weight management benefits of this herb, licorice candy is not the way to go as it is loaded with added sugar.
6. Supports Oral Health
This herb also promotes oral health. Its antibacterial and antimicrobial properties can prevent the growth of cavity-causing bacteria, reduce plaque, fight bad breath, and keep your teeth and gums strong and healthy.
A 2012 study published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Natural Products confirmed the oral health benefits of licorice root. The study highlighted two antibacterial compounds found in licorice that inhibit the growth of oral pathogens responsible for cavities and gum disease, namely, licoricidin and licorisoflavan A.(7)
In another 2012 study, published in the Anaerobe Journal, researchers green-lighted the use of licorice root extracts in oral hygiene products, such as toothpaste and mouthwash.(8)
- Use dried licorice root powder to brush your teeth or use a mouthwash containing licorice to maintain oral health.
- You can also fashion a toothbrush out of a soft stick of licorice to clean your teeth daily.
7. Eases Menopausal Symptoms
Licorice can even help in dealing with many problems associated with menopause. The phytoestrogenic compounds in this herb help correct the hormonal imbalance in the body to ease symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, depression, vaginal dryness, and mood swings.
The B vitamins in licorice further assist the regulation of hormones such as estrogen and progesterone to help fight these symptoms.
A 2012 preliminary study published in the Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research highlights the positive effects of licorice in reducing the duration of menopausal hot flashes.(9) Although licorice was found to engender better results than hormone replacement therapy in shortening hot flashes, it seemed to have no bearing on palliating the severity of hot flashes.
Thus, further research is needed to conclusively establish the holistic effectiveness of this herb in this regard.
Before taking licorice root extract, consult your doctor for the correct dosage.
8. Fights Arthritis Symptoms
This herb has anti-inflammatory properties that can help treat chronic inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
It has an aspirin-like action that can help soothe pain and swelling, two common symptoms of arthritis. In addition, it reduces free-radical damage that causes inflammation and pain.
In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, researchers found the anti-inflammatory effects of licorice and roasted licorice extracts, which are beneficial in preventing and treating arthritis.(10)
To ease arthritis pain and inflammation, drink a few cups of licorice tea daily or take a supplement after consulting with your doctor.
9. Treats Depression
This herb also helps treat depression and keep the adrenal system well balanced. The glycyrrhizin in licorice root gives your overworked adrenal glands a much-needed break during times of excessive stress. It efficiently regulates and helps maintain an optimal level of the stress hormone cortisol in the body.
In addition, licorice has essential minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and beta-carotene as well as flavonoids that further help lift the cloud of depression.
Licorice is even effective in combating pre and post-menopausal depression in women. This was reiterated in a 2003 study published in the Journal of Molecular Neuroscience, wherein licorice was found to inhibit serotonin uptake and thereby helped treat mild to moderate depression in pre and post-menopausal women.(11)
You can take this herb in the form of tea or supplements to fight depression. Consult your doctor before starting the supplement, however.
10. Boosts Immunity
A strong, healthy immune system plays a vital role in keeping your body free from harmful infection-causing pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi. It has demonstrated considerable antiviral potential against broad-spectrum conditions such as Herpes, HIV, Hepatitis, SARS, and Influenza.
A 2017 study, published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggests that licorice polysaccharide suppressed the growth of tumor in mice by modifying the immune responses, exhibiting anticancer properties.(12)
Licorice works as an effective aid to improve your body’s natural defense mechanism by stimulating the production of chemicals called lymphocytes and macrophages, which are essential foot soldiers that carry out the body’s immune responses.
It also contains powerful antioxidants that work as free-radical scavengers to inhibit oxidative damage. To give a boost to your immune system, drink licorice tea or take supplements after consulting with your doctor.
- Asha MK, Debraj D, Prashanth D, et al. In vitro anti-Helicobacter pylori activity of a flavonoid-rich extract of Glycyrrhizaglabra and its probable mechanisms of action. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23220194. Published January 30, 2013.
- Anil A, Gupta D, Yadav G. An Evaluation of the Efficacy of Licorice Gargle for Attenuating postoperative sore throat: A Prospective, Randomised, Single-Blind Study. Anesthesia & Analgesia. Anesthesia & Analgesia. https://journals.lww.com/anesthesia-analgesia/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2009&issue=07000&article=00013&type=Fulltext. Published July 2009.
- Ghannad MS, Mohammadi A, Safiallahy S. The Effect of Aqueous Extract of Glycyrrhizaglabra on Herpes Simplex Virus 1. Jundishapur Journal of Microbiology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4216581/. Published July 1, 2014.
- Hajiaghamohammadi AA, Ziaee A, Samimi R. The Efficacy of Licorice Root Extract in Decreasing Transaminase Activities in Non‐alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Phytotherapy research. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ptr.3728. Published February 6, 2012.
- Armanini D, De CB, Mattarello MJ, et al. Effect of licorice on the reduction of body fat mass in healthy subjects. Journal of Endocrinological Investigation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14594116. Published July 2003.
- Tominaga Y, Nakagawa K, Mae T, et al. Licorice flavonoid oil reduces total body fat and visceral fat in overweight subjects: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Obesity Research and Clinical Practice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24345587. Published August 2009.
- Gafner S, Bergeron C, Villinski JR. Isoflavonoids and Coumarins from Glycyrrhizauralensis: Antibacterial Activity against Oral Pathogens and Conversion of Isoflavones into Isoflavan-Quinones during Purification. Journal of Natural Products. https://pubs.acs.org/stoken/presspac/presspac/full/10.1021/np2004775. Published November 10, 2011.
- Ahn SJ, Cho EJ, Kim HJ, Park SN, Lim YK, Kook JK. The antimicrobial effects of deglycyrrhizinated licorice root extract on Streptococcus mutans UA159 in both planktonic and biofilm cultures. Anaerobe. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23123832. Published December 2012.
- Nahidi F, Zare E, Mojab F. Effects of Licorice on Relief and Recurrence of Menopausal Hot Flashes. Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research: IJPR. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3832176/. Published 2012.
- Kim, Rim K, Jeong, et al. Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Licorice and Roasted Licorice Extracts on TPA-Induced Acute Inflammation and Collagen-Induced Arthritis in Mice. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2010/709378/. Published March 17, 2010.
- Ofir R, Tamir S, Khatib S, Vaya J. Inhibition of serotonin re-uptake by licorice constituents. Journal of Molecular Neuroscience. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12794307. Published April 2003.
Peter Amwoga Ayeka, YuHong Bian, Peter Mwitari Githaiga, Ying Zhao. The immunomodulatory activities of licorice polysaccharides ( Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch.) in CT 26 tumor-bearing mice. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. https://bmccomplementalternmed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12906-017-2030-7. Published December 15, 2017.
- Full Report (All Nutrients): 45340064, LICORICE, UPC: 866662000105 . USDA Food Composition Databases. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/45340064. Published April 2018.