Glycyrrhiza glabra

No one knows who first discovered that the tangled, fleshy rhizomes of licorice possess an intense sweetness. But evidence of licorice’s use is widespread in ancient cultures. Archaeologists found bundles of licorice root sealed inside the 3,000-year-old tomb of Tutankhamen, presumably so that in his afterlife the Egyptian king could brew mai sus, a sweet drink still enjoyed in Egypt today. The species known to both the ancient Egyptians and the ancient Greeks was Glycyrrhiza glabra, commonly called European licorice. The genus name comes from Greek words meaning “sweet root.” But there was more to licorice’s appeal than its sweetness. Licorice root was also prized medicinally, primarily as a remedy for digestive and respiratory ailments.

Therapeutic Uses

Sore throat
This plant, better known as a candy and candy flavoring, also has some medicinal properties. Thanks to its demulcent, or tissue-coating, properties, licorice root can coat sore throats and soothe coughs, heartburn, and gastritis. It is possible that the thick mucilage from licorice provides the coating, or alternatively the body may build up secretions in response to compounds in licorice. Scientists have conducted a few research trials looking at combination products in the treatment of indigestion and asthma and the topical treatment of canker sores. A group of compounds in licorice, the triterpene saponins, are responsible for the herb’s sweetness and possibly also for its antiviral effects and its success in healing stomach ulcers.

How to Use

Lozenge: For sore throat, a licorice lozenge used every few hours for several days allows the coating properties of licorice to soothe inflamed tonsils and throats.
Tea: To soothe a nagging cough, especially one due to an upper respiratory infection causing nasal drip, try a decoction of licorice. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons chopped licorice root to 2 cups boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes. Strain, cool, and drink ½ cup 3 to 4 times a day for up to 1 week.
Tablets: Heartburn, gastritis, or related conditions requiring licorice treatment for more than a week respond well to deglycyrrhizinated licorice, or DGL, tablets, generally 1 to 2 380-mg tablets before meals and at bedtime.


If taken for extended periods, a licorice compound called glycyrrhizin can deplete the body’s potassium and raise blood pressure. Generally, licorice is safe if taken for less than a week at the doses listed above. For those with gastritis or heartburn needing extended treatment, concerns about potassium and blood pressure can be avoided by taking a DGL product. People taking blood thinners or blood pressure medicines, people with high blood pressure, and people with kidney or heart troubles should be cautious with any amount of licorice. Licorice is not recommended during pregnancy or lactation.

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