encyclopedia

Licorice Root

Scientific Names:
Glycyrrhiza glabra L. [Fam. Fabaceae]

Forms:
Licorice root tea; Licorice root standardized extracts

Traditional Usage:
– Anti-inflammatory

– Antioxidant

– Athlete’s Foot

– Baldness

– Body Odor

– Breathing Disorders

– Bursitis

– Canker Sores

– Catarrh

– Cellular Regeneration

– Cleansing

– Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

– Colds and flu

– Coughs

– Dandruff

– Detoxifying

– Duodenal Ulcers

– Eczema

– Emphysema

– Expectorant

– Fungal Infections

– Gingivitis

– Heartburn

– HIV Infection

– Hormone Imbalances

– Joint Pain

– Menopausal Problems

– Prostate Enlargement

– PMS

– Psoriasis

– Shingles

– Sore Throat

– Skin Disorders

– Tendonitis

– Tuberculosis

– Ulcers

– Viral Infections

– Yeast Infections

Overview:
Licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra L. [Fam. Fabaceae], is a legume with roots rich in glycyrrhizin, a compound almost 50 times sweeter than sugar. Licorice root has been a valued medicine in both the Eastern and Western worlds for thousands of years and use was documented as early as 2500 B.C. in Assyrian clay tablets and Egyptian papyri. Traditionally, licorice root was particularly valued for treating respiratory problems, coughs, colds, flues and infections. The German Commission E recognizes licorice root for treating respiratory catarrh (mucous) and gastric or duodenal ulcers. Glycyrrhizin accelerates the healing of gastric ulcers and also has expectorant and antispasmodic effects. According to Dr. James Duke, the expectorant, antisecretory and antioxidant properties of licorice root make it a valuable herb for treating emphysema and chronic bronchitis, cases where uncleared mucous accumulates and irritates the lungs. Licorice root also provides significant benefits for men with prostate enlargement, attributed to compounds contained in the root that prevent the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), also beneficial for preventing baldness. The root also contains several phytoestrogens that support beneficial hormones in both men and women. Licorice root tea is also effective for treating heartburn and can be used externally as a hydrocortisone cream replacement for alleviating skin inflammations and psoriasis or internally against bursitis and tendonitis. A clinical study with 100 patients with early peptic ulcers using licorice root fluidextract for six weeks documented benefits in 90% of cases with 22% complete cure and 28% showing significant improvement based on X-rays (86 patients were previously unresponsive to conventional treatment). Licorice root also contains at least 25 different antifungal compounds, 20 antibacterial compounds (up to 33% of the licorice root dry weight) and has antiviral activity making it a potentially effective treatment for athlete’s foot, body odor, Lyme disease and many other infections.

Active Ingredients:
Licorice roots contain: 4-24% triterpenoid saponins including, largely, glycyrrhizin and the potassium and calcium salts of glycyrrhizic acid; ca. 1% flavonoids including liquiritin and liquiritigenin, chalcones isoliquiritin, isoliquiritigenin and isoflavonoids (formononetin); 1-2% amines asparagines, betaine and choline; amino acids; 3-15% glucose and sucrose; 2-30% starch; polysaccharides; sterols; coumarins (glycerin); resin; and 0.047% volatile oils. More than 30 different flavonoids and isoflavonoids have been identified from licorice roots including the phytoestrogens, formononetin and genistein.

Suggested Amount:
Licorice root can be taken as a tea with the recommended dosage of one to three cups per day, using one teaspoonful of dried root per cup of boiling water. A typical dosage of licorice root extract provides 200 to 800 mg of glycyrrhizin daily. Due to potentially serious side effects associated with long term use of licorice root preparations when taken at a high dosage, deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) preparations are also available and based on a two-year human clinical trial with ulcer patients, they are also as effective or more so than the conventional drug cimetidine.

Drug Interactions:
Licorice root tea may interfere with existing hypoglycemia therapy and hormonal therapy. Potassium loss may be increased when licorice root is taken with other drugs, and in that case the sensitivity to digitalis glycosides increases. In persons with impaired cardiac or renal function, a physician should be consulted prior to use of licorice and in these cases, deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) preparations are recommended together with a potassium-rich diet with e.g. bananas and dried apricots. Long-term use of licorice should be strictly avoided. The drugs, spironolactone or amiloride, should not be taken simultaneously with licorice root.

Contraindications:
Licorice root tea is contraindicated in persons suffering from liver disease; hypokalaemia, existing cardio-vascular disorders and it may interfere with existing hypoglycemia therapy and hormonal therapy. In persons with impaired cardiac or renal function, a physician should be consulted prior to use of licorice and in these cases, preparations of deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) are recommended together with a potassium-rich diet with e.g. bananas and dried apricots. The drugs, spironolactone or amiloride, should not be taken simultaneously with licorice root. Licorice is also contraindicated during pregnancy.

Side Effects:
Long term therapeutic use of licorice root tea (more than six weeks) or ingestion of excessive amounts (more than 50g licorice root per day) can produce headache, lethargy, sodium and water retention, excessive loss of potassium and high blood pressure. These effects are associated with the glycyrrhizin content of the roots when taken in moderate dosages (three cups per day) for more than six weeks and therefore deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) preparations are recommended to ensure the safest long-term therapeutic use of licorice. Within a few weeks of discontinuing use, all of these symptoms disappear.

References:

Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J 2000. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Copyright American Botanical Council. Publ. by Integrative Medicine Communications, 1029 Chestnut Street, Newton, MA 02464. Pp. 233-239.

Duke, J. 1997: The Green Pharmacy, The Ultimate Compendium of Natural Remedies from the World’s Foremost Authority on Healing and Herbs. Rodale Press. pp. 81-82; 85; 98; 106-107; 133; 142; 162; 169; 180; 190; 224; 247; 292; 323-324; 385-386; 393-94; 446, 447, 449; 455; 490; 529-30; 545; 561.

Khayyal MT, el-Ghazaly MA, Kenawy SA, Seif-el-Nasr M, Mahran LG, Kafafi YA, Okpanyi SN. 2001. Antiulcerogenic effect of some gastrointestinally acting plant extracts and their combination. Arzneimittelforschung 2001; 51(7): 545-53.

Lauren DR, Jensen DJ, Douglas JA, Follett JM. 2001. Efficient method for determining the glycyrrhizin content of fresh and dried roots, and root extracts, of Glycyrrhiza species. Phytochem Anal 2001 Sep-Oct; 12(5): 332-5

Razina TG, Zueva EP, Amosova EN, Krylova SG. 2000. [Medicinal plant preparations used as adjuvant therapeutics in experimental oncology.] [Article in Russian] Eksp Klin Farmakol 2000 Sep-Oct; 63(5): 59-61.