Glycyrrhiza glabra

G. uralensis


It turns out that sucking on a licorice stick is a great way to take your medicine. Licorice has an amazing array of therapeutic uses and a safe history of use that extends back for several millennia.

Licorice is a highly regarded adaptogen with thousands of years of recorded use in China, the Middle East and Europe. It was written about in China as far back as 3,000 B.C., where it was used to “strengthen the bones and sinews, enhance muscle growth and strength and heal wounds.

The Greek botanist Theophrastus mentioned licorice in his classic work entitled Enquiry into Plants written in the third century B.C. He proclaimed the roots to be sweet and wrote that they were being used specifically for those with dry coughs and respiratory illness.

Dioscorides, one of my favorites of the ancient herbalists, who wrote De Materia Medica, gave licorice its Latin genus name, Glycyrrhiza, which literally means “sweet root." He used it for those who suffered stomach distress, and also to heal the throat, liver and kidneys.

Liquirizia is a well loved and oft used traditional remedy among my Southern Italian neighbors. The warm, sunny climate of Southern Italia is one of the most beneficial for growing Glycyrrhiza glabra. In fact, licorice grows here like a weed, covering large tracts of land, and is said to produce the best quality in the world. Liquore alla Liquirizia is one of the oldest authentic drinks produced in Southern Italia, typically used as a digestive aid, or aperitivo.

Throughout Europe licorice is used to treat dry cough, dry mouth, wheezing and lung problems such as asthma and bronchitis. It is also used to counter bacterial infection and as a gargle for sore throat. Licorice is known to counter toxic poisoning from pesticides, herbicides, lead and pharmaceutical drugs.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, G. uralensis is used, and referred to as the “peacekeeper” and the “grandfather of herbs.” Gan cao is an important tonic known as the “great detoxifier” - used to drive poisons from the system. The Chinese class it among their superior herbs, which is very similar to the definition of adaptogens today. It is very commonly added in small amounts to Chinese herbal formulas and is considered exceptionally useful to stop diarrhea, relieve fatigue, stimulate the appetite and soothe gastric irritation.

Licorice is considered a nootropic agent, which is a substance that acts on the mind, improving cerebral circulation and enhancing memory and mental function. It is excellent added to formulas intended to benefit the brain and mental functioning, improving memory, clarity, concentration and focus. It is said to help harmonize the body/mind/spirit connection.

Licorice offers antiviral properties, is an effective antihistamine and acts as an anti-inflammatory with its rich stores of steroidal precursors. The roots also offer an abundance of antioxidants, are demulcent, expectorant, and have demonstrated considerable tumor inhibiting properties. Licorice is a supreme liver tonic. It heals liver damage, is hepatoprotective and is called for in treating hepatitis and cirrhosis.

It is an excellent herbal choice for countering stress and repairing the damage stress causes in the body. Licorice is effectively used to treat adrenal insufficiency, modulate elevated blood sugar levels and ease the frequency of colds and flu.

A proven immunomodulator, licorice is of special benefit to those with any autoimmune disease, cancer or chronic fatigue syndrome. In cases of an over-reactive immune system licorice will reduce the excessive immune response. Where immune function is low, licorice will help to boost the sluggish response.

These tasty roots promote the production of estrogen in the body and so have long been used to balance hormones and reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flashes and other discomforts of menopause. Licorice roots offer special health benefits to breast tissue and have been used to plump up, smooth out and beautify the breasts for centuries.

Licorice offers significant benefits for those suffering with any kind of digestive dysfunction. It works to heal irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. It is an excellent remedy for any inflammation or irritation of the gastrointestinal tract, gastritis, gastric and duodenal ulcers, ileitis, leaky gut syndrome and is a very good digestive tonic. It is exceedingly soothing to the entire digestive system.

Licorice is also an important herb to use for all allergy-related skin problems. It helps boost the body’s natural steroid production and counters inflammation and irritation. It can be used topically to treat skin sensitivity, itching, rashes and inflammation, and can also be taken internally to address these issues.

WARNING! Licorice roots have been safely used for thousands of years. However, there are some cautions. It is best avoided by those with hypertension. Excess use can cause a condition known as hyperaldosteremia, where a person retains sodium, loses potassium and develops high blood pressure. Moderation and use as directed is advised. If you deal with hypertension, consider using marshmallow instead. Pregnant women subject to edema should also avoid it. Licorice is rarely used alone as a simple, and is best used in combination with other herbs in a formula. In Chinese Medicine licorice makes up no more than 10% of any recipe.  I follow this advice when formulating with licorice.

Flower Essence Licorice flower essence is indicated when experiencing fatigue/stress and when longing for the sweetness of life. It supports joy.

Magical Lore Licorice is associated with Venus and is traditionally included in spells to attract love and ensure fidelity. The roots have been used as magical wands.

Culture Licorice is a perennial plant, reaching 3-5 feet in height. The woody stems bear beautiful dark green leaves that are divided into several pairs of almost opposite leaflets and ending with a central, apical leaflet. It has a thick, dark reddish-brown taproot, yellow on the inside, from which branch roots and long runners extend. The bluish-purple flower spikes spring from the leaf axils and bloom from July to September followed by small, smooth pods containing dark, oval seeds. G. glabra originates in the Mediterranean and the Middle East and has been cultivated since at least the 16th century. The plants require deep, fertile soil that retains moisture well. We pre-soak the seed overnight in warm water and then sow in flats in early spring. We grow the seedlings for the first year in a bed in the greenhouse, setting them out into the garden in the spring of the second year.

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