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  • Glycyrrhiza glabra L.
  • Leguminosae
  • Pea family

Common Names

herbsChinese licorice
herbsGan cao (Chinese name)
herbsLicorice root
herbsSweet licorice
herbsSweet wood
herbsYasti Madhu (Sanskrit name)

Parts Usually Used

Root, dried

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Licorice is a perennial erect branching plant 3-7 feet tall; the woody rootstock is wrinkled and brown on the outside, yellow on the inside, and tastes sweet. The stem, which is round on the lower part and angular higher up, bears alternate, odd-pinnate leaves with 3-7 pairs of ovate, dark green leaflets. Axillary racemes of yellowish or purplish 3-foot-long spikes of flowers appear from June to August, depending on location.

Full sun to partial shade. The roots are dug when sweetest, in autumn of the 4th year, preferably from plants that have not borne fruit, a process that exhausts the sweetness of the sap.

Another variety of licorice is Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota). It can be used like G. glabra. Wild licorice can raise blood pressure like G. glabra.

Where Found

Found wild in southern and central Europe and parts of Asia, and cultivated elsewhere. Grows abundantly in Northern China, Mongolia, especially from the region of Kokonor.

Medicinal Properties

Demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, laxative, emetic, emolient, pectoral, alterative, anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, sedative, tonic, stimulant

Biochemical Information

Asparagine, biotin, choline, fat, glycyrrhizin, gum, inositol, lecithin, glycosides, volatile oil, coumarins, estrogenic substances, sterols, saponins, manganese, PABA, pantothenic acid, pentacyclic terpenes, phosphorus, protein, sugar, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, and E, and yellow dye.

Substances in this herb seem to produce physiological reactions of desoxycorticosterone, with associated retention of sodium and water and the excretion of potassium.

Legends, Myths and Stories

Licorice was used as a treatment for coughs as long ago as the third century BC. When the 3,000 year old tomb of King Tutankhamen of Egypt was opened, archeologists found quantities of licorice stored with fabulous jewelry and magnificent art works. Did the boy king have a special liking for licorice?

Like the Chinese, the Hindus considered licorice a general tonic, beautifying agent, and elixir of life.

Ancient Chinese divided their drugs into 3 classes, according to their reputed properties. Licorice was of the first class because "They preserve the life of man, and therefore resemble Heaven. They are not poisonous. No matter how much you take, and how often you use them, they are not harmful. If you wish to make the body supple, improve the breath, become old in years without aging in body, then make use of drugs of this class."

It has been stated that "Licorice sugar will not crystallize nor ferment, even when yeast is added."

Hippocrates mentioned licorice in 400 BC; Pliny wrote 1900 years ago about the juice of licorice helping to clear the voice. It is mentioned in practically all botanical records of mankind.

In World War I, the French provided their troops with a beverage made with licorice root.

The Chinese claim to have used the herb root for more than 5,000 years. Chinese healers prescribed licorice for flare-ups of arthritis, but back then they didn't know that licorice contained saponins, anti-inflammatory compounds similar to natural steroid hormones. Licorice stimulates the production of 2 steroids, cortisone and aldosterone.

A list of 365 medicinal herbs were compiled in China about 2,000 years ago, called the Shennong Herbal. Licorice was listed as a "superior" drug, meaning it can be used over a long period of time without toxic effects. It actually has antiviral, antiallergic and, as stated, anti-inflammatory properties.

Licorice root, considered of great importance in Chinese medicine, is sold in long, dry, wrinkled pieces. It is used in a large number of prescriptions as a corrective and harmonizing ingredient. The extract is used in the composition of cough lozenges, syrups, and pastilles.

In the United States, the National Cancer Institute is investigating triterpenoids, compounds found in licorice root, for the capability to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells and prevent tooth decay.

The Japanese are investigating glycyrrhetic acid as a possible cancer treatment.

Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza lepidota) was known to the Blackfeet tribe as "Pa ki to ki" and was a remedy for sore throat and stomach trouble. They steeped the gray leaves.

Licorice is used in great quantities in modern tobacco mixtures.


Beneficial for hypoglycemia, bronchitis, consumption, colitis, cystitis, general debility, stomach ulcers, diverticulosis, indigestion, gastritis, bladder, kidney ailments, stress, colds, coughs, laryngitis or hoarseness, sore throats, relieves thirst, fevers, nausea, and inflammation. Cleanses the colon, lowers blood cholesterol, promotes adrenal gland function, decreases muscle or skeletal spasms, and increases fluidity of mucus from the lungs, coughs, hoarseness, mucous congestion, and bronchial tubes. Has estrogen-like hormone effects; changes the voice.

A strong decoction makes a good laxative for children and may also help to reduce fever. Add licorice to other medicines to make them more palatable.

Externally, used as an ointment for eczema, psoriasis, burns, boils, sores, ulcers, and redness of the skin. Made by adding 2% of licorice juice to an antibiotic formula.

Studies show licorice root stimulates the production of interferon.

Deglycerrhizinated licorice may stimulate the body's defense mechanisms that prevent the occurrence of ulcers by increasing the amount of mucous-secreting cells in the digestive tract. This improves the quality of mucous, lengthens intestinal cell life and enhances microcirculation in the gastrointestinal lining. Licorice derivatives have been recommended as a standard nutritional support for peptic ulcer sufferers in Europe.

Licorice is 50 times sweeter than sugar.

Formulas or Dosages

Decoction: use 1 tsp. rootstock with 1 cup water. Take 1 cup a day.

Licorice mixed with wild cherry, and flaxseed makes a wonderful cough syrup.

For sore throat, phlegm, hoarseness, coughs, and bronchial irritations, the following Chinese formula should be sipped slowly:

  • Kan-ts'ao (licorice root) 1/2 oz.
  • Chih-ma (flaxseed) 1 oz.

Boil in 1-1/2 pints of water for 10 minutes, strain. Dose: 1 cup of hot tea, 3 to 4 times a day. Sip slowly.

Nutrient Content

Manganese, phosphorus, protein, sugar, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, and E.

How Sold


Capsules: take 1 capsule to up to 3 times daily.


Do not use licorice root if you have high blood pressure, liver disease, or low levels of potassium. The increased production of aldosterone can raise blood pressure; believed to cause retention of fluids; in large quantities, licorice can sap potassium and calcium from the body, which is extremely dangerous. Not to be taken by people with a rapid heartbeat or those taking digoxin-based drugs. Avoid in cases of osteoporosis, hypertension, and swelling around the heart. Licorice is contraindicated in cases where there is a tendency towards fluid retention, edema with high blood pressure. It should be used moderately for women, who tend to retain water more than men. Application should not continue for more than 4-6 weeks.

Women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) should not use licorice during PMS, due to its ability to cause water retention or bloating.

Licorice-flavored candy does not offer the same benefits as preparations from the root, but can cause an increase in blood pressure.

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