Licorice: A Sweet-Tasting Herb with Some Time-Honored Health Benefits

Sweet, sharp, and slightly herbal, licorice is a strong flavor that lots of people associate with chewy ropes of candy. But did you know that licorice root – the botanical that gives this iconic candy its name – also has a long history of medicinal uses?

The ancient Hindus used licorice root as a tonic to help increase vitality. And the Chinese have used licorice root for centuries to help slow the signs of aging and strengthen immunity. Today, licorice root is valued for its ability to support overall health in various ways, including immune, digestive, and oral health.

The Great Detoxifier

The name “licorice” is derived from the old French and Greek words that translate to “sweet root.” Much of the licorice candy and confectionery products sold in the U.S. don’t actually contain any licorice root extract. Anise smells and tastes somewhat like licorice and is the go-to commercial substitute.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), licorice is known as Gan Cao and is sometimes referred to as the Grandfather of Herbs, the Great Adjunct, or the Great Detoxifier. Gan Cao is added to many TCM herbal formulas to help synergize, move, and direct (guide) the other botanicals into the 12 meridians in the body, particularly the spleen, stomach, lung, kidney, and heart meridians. Its key actions in the TCM system are to tonify Qi, tonify the spleen, clear heat, relieve toxicity, moisten the lungs, and help stop coughs.

Licorice in DGL Form

Licorice contains 20 triterpenoids and almost 300 flavonoids – compounds with potent antioxidant activity. However, one compound found in licorice root (and the source of licorice root’s sweetness), glycyrrhizin, can lower the body’s potassium levels. This can lead to abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, and other complications. In extreme cases, or if consumed in inappropriately high doses, glycyrrhizin can even lead to heart failure.

Fortunately, licorice root extract is available in a form that eliminates the glycyrrhizin. Known as deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), this form of licorice root is safer to take over longer periods.

Sweetly Supportive

Modern research on licorice root has uncovered numerous science-backed ways in which this sweet-tasting herb can support your overall health:

  1. Soothes the Stomach and Supports Digestion
    Various research confirms licorice root extract and/or the supplement DGL can support healthy inflammatory balance, soothe the stomach and gastrointestinal lining, and aid in repairing the gut barrier. Additionally, licorice root contains gastroprotective compounds that have been shown to encourage mucus production and ease discomfort associated with reflux, cramping, or nausea. Simply enjoying a cup of licorice tea after meals may also support healthy digestion.
  2. Supports a Healthy Immune System and Vitality
    Licorice acts as an immunomodulator, encouraging a balanced immune response. By balancing immune cells and inflammation, licorice may help to counter fatigue related to weakened immunity, thereby supporting vitality. Licorice has also been shown to act on various microorganisms, which may help the body deal more effectively with unwanted or potentially harmful bugs that can hamper the immune system.
  3. Affects Liver Function and Detoxification
    The constituents found in licorice root improve antioxidant activity and activate liver enzymes involved in detoxification. This helps clear metabolic waste and defend against toxins or medicine side effects. By encouraging better bile flow and reducing oxidative stress, licorice may benefit those with liver or digestive concerns.
  4. Promotes Oral Health
    Due to its impacts on immune function, inflammatory balance, oxidative stress, and unwanted microorganisms, licorice extracts have been researched for addressing oral health concerns. Because oral health is intimately tied to whole-body health, this time-honored botanical may be useful as an adjunct for those wanting to improve the health of their oral cavity. While excessive intake can raise blood pressure, reasonable consumption of licorice root teas, supplements, or lozenges offers a range of digestive, immune, oral, and detoxification benefits for supporting overall wellness.