Liquorice or licorice reminds many of us of our childhood sweets… Of course, you either loved it or hated it, as its unique flavour was an acquired taste. But, did you know it actually started out as a throat healing pastille? This originated from historical uses by the Ancient Greece who used it in cough relieving syrups.
Known as the “sweet root,” liquorice was used in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. It was amongst the many treasures found in the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun's tomb. Roman and Greek soldiers typically chewed the root to help quench thirst and enhance their stamina, and Napoleon Bonaparte reportedly chewed the root habitually.
Liquorice comes from the plant roots of Glycyrrhiza Glabra, which is related to the legume family. Originating in southern Asia and then spreading through the Middle East and into southern Europe, liquorice is first reported in England as growing at a monastery in Pontefract, from which it spread to the States and beyond.
Liquorice was introduced in England by Dominican monks who used the herb to create lozenges that soothed the throat and settled the stomach. In the Chinese tradition, it is one of the most often used of the 50 fundamental herbs, included in thousands of herbal formulas to sweeten teas, to harmonize herbs or to minimize harsh effects of other herbs. In 1914, liquorice candy was first sold by Chicago Liquorice Company.
What makes liquorice root so special is the sweet-tasting compound, anethole, found within it. The herb's key therapeutic compound, glycyrrhizin (which is 50 times sweeter than sugar) exerts numerous beneficial effects on the body, making liquorice a valuable herb for treating a host of ailments. This aromatic, unsaturated ether compound is also found in anise and fennel. It is also known for enhancing the action of other herbs when taken in combination.
Liquorice flavouring isn’t just used in sweets, it’s also used in soft drinks, and in some herbal teas where it provides a sweet aftertaste. It is common in medicines to disguise unpleasant flavours.
Liquorice is particularly popular in Italy (especially in the South) and Spain in its natural form. The root of the plant is simply dug up, washed and chewed as a mouth freshener. Liquorice root can have either a salty or sweet taste. The thin sticks are usually quite salty, whereas the thick sticks are usually quite sweet, with a salty undertone. Unsweetened liquorice is also consumed in the form of small black pieces made from 100% pure liquorice extract, giving a taste that is both bitter and intense.
The medical community is starting to be more accepting of the overall holistic benefits of liquorice. However, it’s important to note medical research hasn’t proved some of these health benefits.
Deglycyrrhizinated Liquorice (DGL) vs Regular Liquorice
Liquorice is available in many forms, either containing glycyrrhizin or as deglycyrrhizinated liquorice (DGL).
Glycyrrhizin is an active compound in liquorice with several health benefits, as well as significant side effects like hypertension. Deglycyrrhizinated liquorice (DGL) has glycyrrhizin removed, thus preventing its side effects. DGL is available in wafers, capsules, liquids, and lozenges.
Without glycyrrhizin, DGL is not associated with any identified adverse effects but still retains some of its beneficial properties. DGL supplements lack the side effects of glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhizic acid. DGL is typically used to treat stomach ulcers and other digestive problems.
Liquorice Root Benefits
Soothes your Gut
Liquorice root is used to soothe gastrointestinal problems. In cases of food poisoning, stomach ulcers, and heartburn, liquorice root extract can speed the repair of stomach lining and restore balance. It can lower stomach acid levels, relieve indigestion and acts as a mild laxative. It can also be used for irritation, inflammation and spasm
in the digestive tract. There is also research that’s shown people who have peptic ulcer disease, or gastritis had improved symptoms when taking DGL. DGL is the safer form of liquorice and can be taken long-term if needed.
Liquorice has been found to be effective natural remedy for nausea and stomach pain. As an anti-inflammatory and demulcent (soothing) herb, liquorice root can be a beneficial leaky gut supplement.
One study found that glycyrrhizic acid can suppress the toxic bacteria H. pylori, and can prevent it from growing in the gut.
Cleanses your Respiratory System
Liquorice is recommended to treat respiratory problems. Liquorice root benefits a sore throat or cough immensely as an effective expectorant, helping to loosen and expel mucus that the cough is trying to eliminate. Its soothing demulcent, anti-inflammatory properties can bring fast relief for sore throat. Demulcents need to make contact with the part of the body that needs to be soothed, so extracts in cough drops and syrups, as well as tea, are most effective.
Liquorice also helps to relax bronchial spasms. The herb also fights viruses that cause respiratory illnesses and an overproduction of mucus in asthma and chest infections, as well as coughs.
It has an aspirin-like action and is helpful in relieving fevers and soothing pain such as headaches. Its anti-allergenic effect is very useful for hay fever, allergic rhinitis, conjunctivitis and bronchial asthma.
Over time, stress can leave the adrenal gland exhausted by constantly producing adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormone. Liquorice is found to help the body regulate cortisol more efficiently thus giving your adrenals a break. It is one of the main adaptogen herbs to help improve stress response.
By enhancing cortisol activity, glycyrrhizin helps to increase energy, ease stress and reduce the symptoms of ailments sensitive to cortisol levels, such as chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromylagia.
Liquorice should be used during times of both physical and emotional stress, after surgery or during convalescence, or when feeling tired and run down.
Protects your Skin and Teeth
Topical gels containing liquorice are recommended for treating eczema. Liquorice can be a successful dermatological treatment due to its antibacterial properties. For that reason, holistic health practitioners often suggest applying liquorice to tooth decay to kill bacteria.
Liquorice also appears to enhance immunity by boosting levels of interferon, a key immune system chemical that fights off attacking viruses. The triterpenoid content in liquorice has shown antiviral effects, making it a potentially strong partner for the immune system. Glycyrrhizinic acid also seems to stop the growth of many bacteria and viruses such as influenza A.
Liquorice both protects the liver and promotes healing in this vital organ. The herb's anti-inflammatory properties help calm hepatitis-associated liver inflammation. Liquorice also fights the virus commonly responsible for hepatitis and supplies valuable antioxidant compounds that help maintain the overall health of the liver. Through its beneficial action on the liver, it also increases bile flow and lowers cholesterol levels.
Treat PMS and Menstrual Problems
The phytoestrogens in liquorice have a mild oestrogenic effect, making the herb potentially useful in easing certain symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome), such as irritability, bloating and breast tenderness. Although the glycyrrhizin in liquorice actually inhibits the effect of the body's own oestrogens, the mild estrogenic effect produced by liquorice’s phytoestrogens manages to override this inhibiting action.
For treatment of menopause, liquorice has shown in a study to be better than hormone replacement therapy at reducing the duration of hot flashes.
Assists Cancer Treatment
Some studies say liquorice root can potentially aid the treatment of breast and prostate cancers. And some Chinese practices also incorporate it into cancer treatment. Research in this field is ongoing and more studies are needed to prove its effectiveness.
When taken as a tea, liquorice root is considered safe and well tolerated in adults. Some people may experience mild side effects, including upset stomach, bloating, and heartburn. These commonly occur if you exceed the recommended dose.
Liquorice root supplements are only intended for short-term use. Many of these side effects are the result of the excessive accumulation of glycyrrhizinic acid, which triggers an abnormal increase in the stress hormone cortisol.
Too much liquorice root extract could also lead to low levels of potassium in the body, which causes muscle weakness. This condition is called hypokalemia. It can also cause increased sodium and water retention. It could cause high blood pressure, swelling, and heartbeat irregularity.
Some evidence suggests taking liquorice in supplement form may have oestrogen-like effects on female hormone sensitive conditions, such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and should not be taken by people with such diseases.
Prolonged use at higher doses is not recommended for people with a history of hypertension or renal failure, and pregnant or nursing women.
When taken long-term, as for problems in the digestive system, DGL may be recommended, which has a greatly reduced level of glycyrrhizin.
Limiting liquorice sweets is also a good idea even though not all liquorice sweets are made with liquorice. Many modern brands are "liquorice-flavoured" and are made with anise-based flavourings that do not contain any glycyrrhizin.
Some compounds in liquorice can interact with drugs, such as with corticosteroid medications by increasing their effect. If you are on corticosteroid medication then it would be best to work with someone experienced in using these two substances together.
To help avoid interactions, be sure to tell your doctor about all medications, vitamins, or herbs you’re taking to find out how liquorice might interact with something else you are taking.
Dosages for Health
Liquorice extract is the most commonly found form of liquorice. It’s used as a commercial sweetener in candies and beverages. Liquorice extract consumption by an individual should not exceed 30 mg/ml of glycyrrhizic acid. Ingesting more could cause unwanted side effects.
Combined with a gel base, it can become a topical ointment that clears the skin. In its powder form, liquorice is especially helpful in treating eczema and acne. You can also pour the powder into vegetable capsules and ingest them orally. The recommended dosage of liquorice root is less than 75 milligrams per day, according to World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.
Liquorice plant leaves, dried and crushed into a tea, have become popular. Decoction of the roots or the powder mixed with hot water would suffice. Teas are used to promote digestive, respiratory, and adrenal gland health. When you see herbal teas for “bronchial wellness” and “cleanse and detox,” they usually contain forms of liquorice. The popular throat remedy known as Throat Coat tea is a combination of marshmallow root, liquorice root, and elm bark.
DGL is liquorice with glycyrrhizin removed, which is a safer form. DGL should contain no more than 2 percent glycyrrhizin. This form is recommended for gastrointestinal symptoms as long-term intake may be needed. DGL is available in chewable tablets, capsules, tea, and powder. Consume no more than 5 grams of DGL per day.
It’s not recommended that people ingest more than 10 grams of liquorice root per day.
To Sum Up…
Liquorice came to fame when it turned into bite-size candy, but the herb itself has been used for thousands of years for a variety of health conditions.
Liquorice helps support the respiratory system by expelling infected mucus and soothing a sore throat. It regulates cortisol levels which helps adrenal glands that may be exhausted by prolonged stress. It helps support the digestive system by repairing an inflamed gut, preventing ulcers and suppressing toxic bacteria from growing. Liquorice protects the skin and teeth due to its antibacterial and any inflammatory properties. It has shown to be effective in eczema when liquorice gel is applied directly to the skin. Women may be able to benefit further with this herb which mimics oestrogen in the body and so may help with PMS and even menopause symptoms.
There is so much more to learn about this herb especially its potential to treat cancer. Nonetheless, it’s important to get clued up about its side effects especially if you intend to use it over a long period of time. Look for formulations that contain no more than 10% glycyrrhizin. As a general rule, you should never exceed the recommended dosage on the product label or take liquorice supplements for longer than three to six weeks. Always talk to your doctor about whether taking liquorice supplements would benefit your health.
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