Chinese Licorice root, or Glycyrrhiza, is one of the greatest herbs known to mankind. Licorice root builds energy and is an excellent digestive tonic. It is the most broad spectrum natural detoxifying agent known, ridding the body of over 1200 known toxins without any distressful side-effects. It also helps regulate the blood sugar level, helping counteract hypoglycemia, a very common imbalance.
Licorice root provides basic nutrients to the adrenal glands. Licorice helps build and strengthen muscle, and it is a natural muscle relaxer. It is very sweet and adds a delicious flavor to herbal teas. Licorice is included in most Chinese herbal teas and formulations because it is said to harmonize all the ingredients in an herbal formula. Licorice root is very powerful and should be used in small
Other Common Names
Page Number In Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs
Glycyrrhizae Uralensis, Radix
Organ Meridian Systems
Spleen, Stomach and Lungs
Regulates the function of the Stomach, invigorates the Spleen, Qi tonifying, lung clearing, latent-heat clearing, detoxicant, anti-inflammatory, harmonizing and regulating to the twelve organs
Licorice root is used as a harmonizing ingredient in many Chinese herbal formulations. It is used in more formulations than any other herb in Chinese herbalism. Though it is considered to be the quintessential “servant” herb, it is often refered to as the King of Herbs, in spite of the fact that Ginseng also bares the title. Its sweet and pleasant flavor help make some unsavory formulations palatable, and otherwise bland tasting formulas excellent.
It is believed that Licorice root “harmonizes” the ingredients in an herbal formulation, eliminating harshness of action and promoting smooth activity of the herbs. It is therefor called “the Great Harmonizer.” It is thus extremely important in the Chinese herbal system, both tonic and medicinal. It is used in small quantities in a very wide number of formulations as a harmonizer. The herb is powerful and small doses are usually sufficient to achieve excellent results. Large quantities are uncommon because excessive use can cause edema, and in some cases hypertension. Occasional large doses are not considered to be a problem for most people when used for specific purposes and under a doctors watchful eye.
Licorice is an excellent Qi tonic. It increases vital energy. This herb is frequently used to strengthen the digestive and metabolic functions. It aids in the assimilation of nutrients and thus contributes to the building of blood. Licorice is universally believed, in Asia, to build large, strong muscle tissue. It is thus widely used by athletes, dancers, etc. It is used as an ingredient in numerous Qi tonic formulations as both a Qi tonic and as the harmonizing ingredient.
It is often used as an anti-inflammatory agent. Licorice contains chemical components which act similarly to cortisone, but without the side effects. It is useful for all sorts of inflammation, but usually it depends on the other herbs in a formula to determine where the formula will act.
This herb has a reputation as an excellent expectorant in the case of lung congestion. Furthermore, it is widely used as a tea to help relieve sore throat and pharyngolaryngitis. Millions of smokers use it to soothe their dry throats since Licorice root improves secretion of the throat mucosa. It is also used as an ingredient in teas used by singers, public speakers and others who utilize their vocal cords excessively.
Licorice root has acquired the name in China of “the Great Detoxifier.” It is considered to be one of the primary detoxifying herbs in the Chinese herbal arsenal. Its reputation for this action goes back to the time of Shen Nong. It is widely believed that low level consumption of Licorice root will rid the body of poisons that would otherwise accumulate and cause disease or functional disorder if not cleaned out. In particular, it is believed to clean the blood and the liver. Though there are many detoxifying agents used in Chinese herbalism, most of them are harsh. Licorice root, on the other hand is mild and devoid, for most people, of side effects. It can of course be used preventively, which makes it more generally useful than medicinal herbs.
Many people use Licorice root internally as a general anti-inflammatory. It is used for redness and swelling anywhere in the body. Of course, if inflammatory conditions exist, one should consult a physician, but for low grade inflammations, Licorice root may prove to be extremely effective. It is also used as an antispasmotic. When combined with White Peony Root, it is a superb antispasmotic. These two herbs combined work synergistically to relax both smooth muscle and striated muscle. It is especially famous for relieving cramps in the gastrocnemius and feet. However, it is almost equally as useful for cramps and contraction anywhere in the body.
Another condition for which Licorice root is famed is for the relief of gastric and duodenal ulcers. It has been used to relieve hyperacidity for thousands of years and is a superb anti-ulcer agent. A small quantity in tea can quickly help heal ulcers in most cases. It is especially effective when combined with herbs like Gynostemma and White Peony, which themselves help relieve ulcers.
Licorice root is an indispensable component of the Chinese herbal system. It has powerful tonic benefits and at the same time has a wide range of healing effects that have been time proven innumerable times. The trick in using Licorice root lies in watchful moderation. Don’t use too much—it’s unnecessary and excessive quantities can have the side effect of causing water retention. Small doses are very unlikely to have any results but excellent ones.
Glycyrrhiza uralensis contains two major triterpenes, glycyrrhizin (glycyrrhizic acid) and glycyrrhetinic acid. Glycyrrhiza uralensis usually contains 6-14% glycyrrhizin, which exists for the most part as salts of glycyrrhizic acid and ammonia, calcium potassium, iron or barium.
Licorice root is rich in flavonoids. The primary one is liquiritin, with isoliquiritin, liquiritigenin and isoliquiritigenin also playing important pharmacological roles. Licorice root contains a substance called FM 100, which is a component of the flavonoids of the cortex. It has been demonstrated to have anti-ulceration action.
Other components include amino acids, biotin, b-sitosterol, berniarin, umbelliferone, ferulic acid and sinapic acid.
The various species of Glycyrrhiza used as Licorice root have adrenocorticomimetic action. Most authorities on Glycyrrhiza believe that glycyrrhetinic acid produces adrenocorticomimetic action. Its chemical structure is similar to that of the corticosteroids. Pharmacological studies indicate, for example that that glycyrrhetinic acid has sodium-retention, antidiuretic and anti-inflammatory actions. Glycyrrhizin has been shown to prolong the action of cortisone.. It is believed to inhibit the metabolism of the steroids, thus maintaining higher cortisone levels for a longer duration.
Licorice root extract, as well as the raw powder, glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetinic acid exhibit deoxycorticosterone-like action. They reduce the urinary volume and sodium excretion while increasing potassium excretion. This action has produced edema in laboratory animals and in humans.
Human clinical studies have demonstrated that the hormone-like actions of Licorice root are therapeutically useful, strengthening resistance, enhancing adrenocortical function, improving the regulatory function of hormones drugs, reducing the dependence of patients on the steroidal hormones and mitigating the withdrawal symptoms from steroidal hormones.
Licorice root has anti-inflammatory action similar to hydrocortisone. Glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetinic acid are believed to be the components responsible for this activity.
Liquiritigenin and isoliquiritigenin, found in the alcohol extract of Glycyrrhiza uralensis, have been found to be MAO inhibitors, that is, they inhibit monoamine oxidase in the liver. Synthetic MAO inhibitors have been used in the treatment of psychotic patients who have mild or severe depression. Both Liquiritigenin and isoliquiritigenin are spasmolytic agents, that is, they relieve spasms (they are muscle relaxants). Isoliquiritigenin is 5 times as potent as liquiritigenin. It is being examined as a natural substitute for the synthetic MAO drugs used in clinical practice for depression.
Licorice root has been demonstrated to have powerful anti-HIV action in vivo. An herbal drug utilizing Licorice root is being tested in Japan. In addition, Licorice root has been found to induce the production in human beings of g-interferon.
Numerous reports confirm Licorice root’s traditional use as an anti-ulcer agent. It has shown significant inhibition on experimental ulcers as well as in human clinical settings. It protects the mucosa against damage. One mechanism is by inhibiting abnormal gastric secretion by the gastric mucosal cells. FM 100 is the primary component involved in this action.
Licorice root has a well-known antispasmotic action. The flavonoids in licorice root are responsible for this action. This antispasmotic effect plays an important role in the herbs anti-ulcer by relieving spasm of the smooth muscle of the gastrointestinal tract. The removal of glycyrrhizin from the extract both improves this action and reduces the side effects, including primarily edema. De-glycyrrhinated licorice root is available for those who cannot use normal licorice due to the edemic side effects. FM 100, the anti-ulcer component of Licorice root, has also been shown to have mild anticonvulsant, anti-spasmotic and analgesic actions. When Licorice root is combined with Paeonia albiflora, or when FM 100 is used with paeonin (the active component of Paeonia albiflora), the antispasmotic, anticonvulsant and analgesic actions are greatly increased, confirming the famous combination in traditional Chinese herbalism.
The detoxicant action that has classically been attributed to Licorice root has also been verified. The administration of Licorice root, its extract or of glycyrrhizine have all demonstrated powerful detoxicant actions against toxins such as cocaine, chloral hydrate, strychnine, urethane, arsenobenzene and mercurous chloride. It has also been shown to have detoxicant action against caffeine, nicotine and barbiturates. It has also been used to detoxify snake and spider venom. Given along with snake antiserum, the results were better than snake antiserum alone. However, Licorice root is not effective in detoxifying morphine, ephedrine and epinephrine toxicity. Various Licorice root preparations are now being experimentally used with antineoplastic (cancer) drugs to reduce their toxicity and to improve their effects. Excellent results have been reported in China and Japan. All this detoxifying activity is now believed to be due to the improvement of the regulative activity of the adrenal-pituitary system, and to direct adrenocorticomimetic actions of glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetinic acid, among other mechanisms.
Glycyrrhetinic acid has an antitussive (anti-cough) action similar in action to codeine, but without the drowsiness. Licorice root extract or an herbal tea containing sufficient quantity of the herb, can relieve irritation of inflamed pharyngeal mucosa. Licorice root also promotes pharyngeal and bronchial secretion, which in turn promotes expectoration.
Licorice root extract has been shown in laboratory animals to significantly protect the liver from damage due to strong liver toxins.
Licorice root has a significant antidiuretic action, due to the action of glycyrrhizin. This action produces the one overt side effect of Licorice root—edema.
1. Ginseng, Codonopsis, Astragalus and Atractylodes to tonify Spleen and build qi
2. White Peony to relieve spasms and cramps
3. Ginger and Aged Citrus to regulate Stomach qi
Varieties and Grading
Large, very sweet licorice root is the best. Very high quality Licorice root, when sliced, has a smoother, finer texture than cheap, low grade Licorice. Good Licorice root is pleasant to chew. Licorice root is a soft pulpy wood, yet it becomes pulpy when chewed. Cheaper Licorice root tends to be more splintery when chewed and doesn’t taste as good. Sometimes small, splintery Licorice root is quite sweet. This type of Licorice is fine for extraction, but the larger Licorice root has better chemical harmony and is simply better in most cases. All Licorice root is inexpensive, and it goes a long way because you will be using small quantities, so purchase the best you can find.
It should be noted that Chinese herbalists sometimes use Licorice root that has been roasted in honey. This is usually called Honey-fried Licorice or prepared Licorice. This kind of Licorice is usually used either in the winter or by people who have a cold constitution or cold condition where they feel chilled all the time.
Large doses of Licorice root can result in side effects associated with the adrenocorticomimetic action of the herb. The symptoms associated with Licorice root include edema and hypertension. Patients prone to, or suffering from, these disorders should use Licorice root only sparingly, as a low level adjunctive herb in other formulations, or they should use de-glycyrrhinated licorice root extracts. In addition, they should seek the advice of their doctor. Elderly patients in particular should use Licorice root sparingly and under the supervision of an herbalist.