Liquorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, is a purple and
white flowering perennial, native of the Mediterranean region and central and
southwest Asia. It is cultivated
widely for the sweet taproot that grows to a
depth of four feet (1.2 m). Liquorice is a hardy plant that thrives in full sun
or partial shade and prefers rich, moist soil. It may grow to a height of 3-7 ft
The aerial parts of the plant are erect and branched, with round stems that
become somewhat angular near the top. The leaves are alternate, odd, and
pinnate, dividing into as many as eight pairs of oblong leaflets.
Liquorice blossoms in late summer. The sweet-pea like flowers grow in
clusters and are small, bluish-purple in color and have long peduncles. They are
papilionaceous, arranged in axillary and erect spikes. Fruit is a smooth,
compressed, one-celled legume, bearing up to four kidney-shaped seeds.
The root is perennial, round, long and straight, tough and fibrous. It is
grayish outside and yellowish within. It is sweet to taste. And its most
desirable virtues lie inside of the cortical. In India, it is cultivated widely
in Punjab and the sub-Himalayan tracts. Dried liquorice roots are available in
all Indian bazaars.
Hippocrates named the herb glukos riza, or sweet
root. Several species of this member of the Leguminosae, or pea family, are used
medicinally. The British adopted the spelling liquorice from the Latin
liquiritia and the German name has a similar meaning (süß ‘sweet’ and
Holz ‘wood’). The same holds for the Sanskrit name yashti
, meaning ‘stem, stalk; and madhu, meaning ‘sweet’. The Latin species
name glaber meaning ‘hairless’ refers to the leaves, to distinguish from some
related species having hairy leaves.
At all times, liquorice was used less as a spice than as a medicine. Its use
against the diseases of the upper respiratory tract dates back to ancient Egypt.
The main part of the plant used in medicine is the root. This root is a
demulcent and gentle relaxant, soothing to mucous irritations, and valued
chiefly for its sweet taste and in masking the sharpness / pungency / taste of
Ayurveda recommends the root as beneficial in the treatment of coughs, colds,
and other bronchial irritations. The root may be chewed as throat lozenges; or
prepared as infusions by removing the outer bark and boiling for several
minutes, to relieve hoarseness and coughs. During Charaka’s period, it was
popular among singers as a lozenge.
Liquorice is used mainly as a spice in many countries. Frequently used spices
termed “sweet” like anise, fennel and star anise cannot match the sweetness of
liquorice. There are many components in liquorice, but the most active is
glycyrrhizin. The root, especially the root bark, contains about 4%
glycyrrhizin, potassium or calcium salt of glycyrrhizinic acid. Glycyrrhizin is
about 50 times sweeter than cane sugar. Its action is similar to hormones
produced in the adrenal cortex, especially desoxycorticosterone (DOCA).
Glycyrrhizin is changed in the liver to glycyrrhetinic acid. Both these
compounds promote the activation of interferon, a potent, naturally produced
antiviral compound. Once interferon is activated, white blood cells are also
called into play along with killer T.cells to help fight against cold viruses
and herpes simplex.
Some antibacterial effects that are exhibited are due more to the flavonoids
contained, than glycyrrhizin. Other components present are saponins, coumarins,
sterols, choline, triterpenoids, lignins, amino acids including asparagine,
gums, biotin, folic acid, inositol, lecithin, estrogenic substances, pantothenic
acid, para-aminobenzoic acid, phosphorous, pentacyclic terpenes, protein, sugar,
a yellow dye, and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and E. Perhaps this is the reason for
the broad range of effects liquorice has on the body. Liquorice contains only
traces of essential oil; constituents identified include bicyclic monterpenoid
ketones (fenchone, thujone) and coumarins (herniarin, umbelliferone).
There are two types of liquorice, “standard” liquorice and
“de-glycyrrhizinated” liquorice (DGL). Each type is suitable for different
conditions. When glycyrrhizin is removed from liquorice, the product is called
deglycyrrhizinated liquorice or DGL. This product is especially useful in
treating ulcers of the digestive tract because of the flavonoids, which are not
harmed by the removal of glycyrrhizin. For respiratory infections, chronic
fatigue syndrome or herpes (topical), the standard liquorice containing
glycyrrhizin should be used. Liquorice root powder can be used in the amount of
5–6 grams per day. Concentrated extracts may be used in the amount of 250–500 mg
three times a day. Alternatively, a tea can be made by boiling 1/2 ounce of root
in 1 pint of water for fifteen minutes, drinking two to three cups of this per
Liquorice root, particularly deglycyrrhized liquorice, can be a useful
adjunct to antibiotic treatment because it accelerates the healing of the
stomach lining. Deglycyrrhized liquorice root (DGL) and glutamine have been used
to get people off antacids, H2 blockers and Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI).
In test tubes, the flavonoids have been known to kill Helicobacter pylori,
the bacteria that cause most ulcers and inflammations of the stomach. Besides
treating ulcers along the digestive tract, including the mouth, liquorice may be
used for viral infections like a cold, inflammation as in arthritis, menstrual
and menopause disorders, herpes, eczema and psoriasis, allergic disorders,
asthma, chronic fatigue, depression due to hormonal imbalance, emphysema, and
Ayurveda recommends liquorice as an effective expectorant, helping to liquefy
mucus and facilitate its discharge from the body. In large doses it is a good
emetic for cleansing the lungs and stomach from excess Kapha. It is a mild
laxative, which soothes and tones the mucous membranes. For colds and
respiratory affliction, it can be combined with fresh ginger.
The expectorant effect of liquorice benefits people suffering from asthma or
chest colds with tight coughs or difficult breathing. Liquorice tea is pleasant
tasting and needs no added sugar. It can be made by simmering a few pieces of
the root in a pint of water for 15-20 minutes. The root may be reused 2 or 3
times before new pieces are needed.
Powdered liquorice is also considered by Ayurvedic medicine as an excellent
remedy for hyperacidity, and clinical tests prove that it is good for relieving
pain, discomfort and other symptoms caused by acid matter in the stomach. It
removes the irritating effects of acids in a better way than alkalis.
Furthermore, liquiritin, a flavonoid glycoside has been identified has the
aglycon liquiritigenin and is spontaneously formed when the root is dried. This
is responsible for the spasmolytic effects of liquorice.
Vatsayana, Kama Sutra recommends equal quantities of clarified butter, honey,
sugar and liquorice be mixed with fennel-juice and milk to stimulate sexual
vigor, and as a preservative of life.
Liquorice is also known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects.
This is due to the effect it has on the adrenal glands that are responsible for
producing cortisol, the body’s own natural corticosteroid. Glycyrrhizin inhibits
prostaglandin production, another component of the inflammatory process.
Glycyrrhizin also exhibits adapto-genic properties by stimulating cortisol
production when there is not enough and promoting the breakdown of cortisol when
there is too much. Because of this, liquorice is useful to take after stopping
prescription of corticosteroids to boost the natural production of cortisol.
Another adaptogenic effect from liquorice involves estrogen. Liquorice shows
mild estrogenic properties similar to other phytoestrogens. It has the ability
to promote estrogen production and to interfere with the effects of too much
estrogen, especially from external sources. The flavonoid constituents are
thought to be responsible for the estrogen-like effects, while glycyrrhetinic
acid antagonizes estrogen where there is over-stimulation of estrogen receptors
in the body. All this makes liquorice useful in controlling the menstrual cycle
and in relieving PMS and menopausal symptoms.
One of the drawbacks of liquorice is that it may cause peripheral edema
(fluid retention) due to the retention of sodium with a loss of potassium, which
disappears when liquorice is stopped. This can cause high blood pressure. But
for people with Addison’s disease, however, this is exactly the type of effect
needed. In Addison’s disease, the body collects sodium and promotes water loss
leading to a serious imbalance of sodium, potassium, and other minerals and
Long-term (more than two to three weeks) intake of products containing more
than 1 gram of glycyrrhizin, i.e., the amount contained in approximately 10
grams of root, daily is the usual amount required to cause these effects.
Consumption of 7 grams liquorice, which approximately contains 500 mg
glycyrrhizin, per day for seven days, has been shown to decrease serum
testosterone levels in healthy men by blocking enzymes needed to synthesize
testosterone. As a result of these possible side effects, long-term intake of
high levels of glycyrrhizin is discouraged, and should only be undertaken if
prescribed by a qualified healthcare professional. Consumption of plenty of
fresh fruits and vegetables to increase potassium intake is recommended to help
decrease the chance of side effects.
Liquorice is contraindicated in pregnant women as well as in people with
liver and kidney disorders. De-glycyrrhizinated liquorice extracts do not cause
these side effects because there is no glycyrrhizin in them.