Not to be confused with the anise-flavored North American candy, the licorice plant is a tall shrub with blue flowers, primarily cultivated in Greece and Turkey. The licorice herb is a member of the pea family. Its roots contain many therapeutic substances including phytoestrogens, flavonoids and glycyrrhizin.
The glycyrrhizin in licorice root stimulates the adrenal glands to produce certain hormones, increases interferon and reduces inflammation. Licorice can decrease the inflammation of the liver for those suffering with hepatitis. It's often used to treat patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and other disorders affected by cortisol imbalances. Licorice is also effective in treating respiratory ailments by relieving sore throat, coughing, mucus buildup and fighting off viruses. Please note that the glycyrrhizin in licorice can raise blood pressure so avoid it if you have heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and hypertension or are pregnant. As always, talk with your doctor before taking this or any other herbal remedy.
There is another form of licorice that doesn't contain glycyrrhizin and has a different medicinal effect on the body. Deglycyrrhizinated or DGL licorice is beneficial for the digestive tract. It improves the body's production of substances that coat the stomach and esophagus, aiding conditions like heartburn, ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease. It works best when mixed with saliva, so take DGL licorice in chewable wafer form. This form can also help speed up the recovery of cancer sores.
The estrogen-like properties of licorice may be beneficial for menstrual and menopausal complaints, and licorice is currently being investigated for its ability to prevent or combat certain cancers. Topical licorice can be soothing for skin irritations like eczema.