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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. The root of this treat has many benefits! Licorice has been popular for flavoring foods and other medicinal herbs for many centuries. Hippocrates described its medicinal use, as did Pliny the Elder.
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. Licorice Root is one of the most widely used remedies in all herbal systems.
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. Licorice calms down sensitive tissues and helps to reduce seasonal sneezing and congestion. It is an ingredient in almost all popular cough medicines on account of its valuable soothing properties. Its cough-suppressant activity resembles that of codeine.
Licorice for Calluses and Corns
“Licorice contains estrogen-like substances that soften the hard skin of calluses and corns,” says Georgianna Donadio, PhD, director of the National Institute of Whole Health. Make this homemade licorice paste: Grind up a few licorice sticks, mix them with 1/2 teaspoon of petroleum jelly, and rub the mixture into the rough areas of your feet.
Licorce Root has also been recommended for auto-immune conditions such as lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and animal dander allergies.
Traditionally, dried licorice root has also been used for sore throat and laryngitis as well as inflammation of the urinary and intestinal tracts. It has been used as a dietary supplement for stomach ulcers, bronchitis, and sore throat, as well as infections caused by viruses, such as hepatitis.
The sugar of Licorice may safely be taken by diabetic patients.
Black licorice is employed in the manufacture of tobacco for smoking and chewing.
Licorice has been used to ease symptoms of menopause. It is not frequently used for this purpose in the United States.
Topically, glycyrrhizin has been used in shampoo to treat excess oil secretion of the scalp. It has also been included in ointments used to treat skin inflammations.
Licorice Root is used to improve eyesight, physical strength, sexual potency and libido.
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.
Did you know?
Pouring a teaspoon of licorice powder into a pint of boiling water can make a homemade douche.
For coughs and colds – approximately 5g per day (about 1 teaspoons licorice root made into tea). For ulcers and stomach problems: up to 15 g per day.
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).
Ancient Chinese texts summarize the uses of licorice rather well: “improve the tone of the ‘middle Jiao’ (digestive system) and replenish qi, to remove ‘heat’ and toxic substance, to moisturize the lungs and arrest coughing, and to relieve spasms and pain.”
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.
Find Licorice Root
- Peeled licorice root is available in dried and powdered forms.
- Licorice root is available as capsules, tablets, and extract.
- Licorice can be found with glycyrrhizin removed; the product is called DGL (for “deglycyrrhizinated licorice”).
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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