Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Licorice Root-Glycyrrhiza glabra, Glycyrrhiza lepidota, Glycyrrhiza uralensis
Also known as: Gan Tsao
Parts used: root
Meridians/Organs affected: lungs, intestines, spleen, stomach, liver, pancreas, immune system, general tonic effects on the entire body
Properties: antiallergenic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, estrogenic, expectorant, demulcent, alterative, laxative, galactogogue, sedative (mild), antioxidant, antispasmodic, emmenogogue, immuno-stimulant, anti-hyperglycemic, antiulcer, anti-hepatotoxic, antimalarial
Licorice root is a member of the Leguminosae (pea) family. It is an aromatic perennial with tall leafy stems and deep roots. The leaves are lance-shaped and divide pinnately into 11-19 leaflets. The flowers are a yellowish to greenish white (the can also turn a pinkish lavender) and are 1/2" long and form dense, stalked clusters. The plant blooms from May to August and has bur-like pods that are covered with hooked bristles. These pods are usually visual during the winter months which make identification much easier. Wild licorice grows in moist, well-drained areas, near water, and on the plains and foothills from British Columbia to New Mexico. The wild licorice here is not nearly as potent as the Eurasian or Chinese varieties medicinally so keep that in mind.
Licorice root has a very long history. Records of it date back to Assyrian medical texts in the late second millenium (BC). Theophrastus, who referred to it as Seythian root, used it often, as did Pliny. Edward I taxed licorice imports in the early 1300's to pay for repairs to the London Bridge. Pontrefact, Yorkshire, became well known for its licorice confections, especially their licorice cakes that they stamped with the town's emblem of a gate and an owl. The Greeks were introduced to it by the Seythians (an ancient people from Iran) and it was used frequently by the Hindus and Chinese. Large quantities of licorice were found with King Tut and other Egyptian pharaohs. They believed that licorice would be used in the next world to make sweet drinks.
Hippocrates praised licorice for its ability to quench the thirst and be sweet - something not known to happen with most sweet things (the thirst quenching). In ancient Rome it was used as a remedy for sore throats, colds and coughs. The Chinese believed that eating the root would give them strength and stamina and the Hindus believed it was an aphrodisiac and would increase sexual vigor when prepared with milk and sugar (don't know why you would need sugar, but okay). In India, licorice is used both as a sweetener and as a galactogogue and emmenogogue. The early north americans used it as a laxative, cough suppressant and for a variety of cancers, and in Korea, it is used with ginseng as an oral contraceptive for women. Licorice is the most commonly used herb in herbal formulations in Chinese medicine as it is believed to harmonize and enhance the effects of all other herbs. In fact, the Chinese have used extracts of licorice for duodenal and gastric ulcers, infectious hepatitis, contact dermatitis, bronchial asthma, diabetes and malaria.
Licorice roots were dried and sold as licorice stick chews. The roots were also boiled to extract the glossy black molasses-like substance used to sweeten ice cream, baked goods, soft drinks and chewing gum. It also has been used to flavor beer, tobacco and cough syrups.
Licorice contains glycyrrhizin which is 50 times sweeter than sucrose and works similarly to cortisone in the body. This and other components that are contained within licorice make it a staple in desert areas to prevent extreme thirst when water intake is low. It is also antitussive and anti-inflammatory which makes it great for coughs and bronchial issues. The glycyrrhetenic acid within licorice is used for chronic adrenocorticoid insufficiency (aka Addison's disease). However, it is also known to increase sodium and fluid retention which can cause an increase in blood pressure so those with cardiac issues or hypertension should avoid it.
The deglycyrrhized form of licorice has been used extensively in Europe for ulcers, colitis, diverticulosis, etc. It is also used as a calming agent, to relax strained muscles, decrease muscle spasms, help with arthritis, rheumatism, hypoglycemia, as an estrogen supplement and to stimulate interferon production. Scientific studies have found that it can increase white blood cell activity and the formation of antibodies. Licorice is what is called an immuno-modulator, which means that if the immune system is sluggish it will get it going and if it is hyperactive it will calm it down. In in vivo (inside the cell) studies it has shown strong activity against tumors and radiation.
Licorice is one of the most powerful herbs we have-when used properly-in combinations with other plants. It is effective against malaria, staph, strep, salmonella, candida, E.Coli, cholera, tuberculosis, etc. It is a decent source of B vitamins as well as vitamin E. That being said, this is not an herb for amateurs. It doesn't work well with some herbs, lessens the effectiveness of others, and isn't compatible with ALOT of pharmaceutical drugs. Pregnant women should not use licorice as it can stimulate the menses. Those with hypertension, kidney disease, or those taking digoxin based drugs should also avoid licorice.
The root is best dug after three years-in the spring-and used either fresh or dried.
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