The Monthly Wort: Licorice Root (Part 2)

The Monthly Wort


The Monthly Wort will provide readers with detailed descriptions of specifically chosen herbs (aka “wort”, meaning a useful herb), splitting into 4 categories over the span of the month. Herbal History, Medicinal Uses, Magical Uses and Growing/Harvesting. In order to get the full scope of each plant, stay tuned every week as we delve into the spiritual and practical experience of Herbalism.

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- A History of Licorice’s Medicinal Use -

Welcome back to the Monthly Wort’s third installment for licorice root, where we’ll be covering its medicinal use. Licorice root is one of the most commonly used herbs worldwide and is the single most used herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine today. As you might recall from Licorice Root Part 1, it was developed in Eurasia and used by ancient Greeks. Pliny the Elder mentioned its use for sore throats and temporarily alleviating hunger and thirst, and medieval people of Europe used it to settle stomachs following a spicy meal. In a more modern survey, it was shown that licorice ranked as the 10th most important herb in Western medicinal herbal practice.

Pretty impressive resume, no?

Glycyrrhiza uralensis at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas, California, USA.

Glycyrrhiza uralensis at the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas, California, USA.

- Licorice Root: China’s Sweet Star -

Although China’s accepted breed of licorice root is glycyrrhiza uralensis, which is native to Asia, it shares most of the same medicinal properties as its close brethren, Glycyrrhiza glabra. It’s first documented use in China dates back to 190 AD in correlation to the herbal master Zhang Zhong Zhing, although there is evidence of it being used long before this. Currently, it is one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine, which is a practice more widely accepted in the health care system than in occidental cultures. Its use spans Mongolia, Japan, Korea, Pakistan, Vietnam, India and other Asian nations. In fact, they even have an old tale of this root’s roots:

A long time ago, there was an old doctor with excellent medicine skills. He opened his medicine office in his home with a few students as assistants. One time, he had to leave home for a couple of days and, before the old doctor left, he gave his students several drug packages in order for them to help out with some home patients. The old doctor did not return home on time, and the medicines he left for his students were running out, and there were still many patients to cure. In the backyard, however, there were some chopped and dried grasses used for boiling the water left, so the students administered them to the patients and told them that it was their teacher’s medicine. Magically, the patients who were suffering from spleen and stomach problems, coughing phlegm, or with sore throats and ulcers were cured from this medicine. These dried grasses were liquorice roots. Since then, liquorice roots have been widely used in Chinese medicine and healing.
— Unknown

Whether or not the tale is true, the last sentence doesn’t lie. Over 5,000 Chinese herbal formulas use licorice root to sweeten teas and “harmonize” contrasting herbs.

- Issues that Licorice Root Treats -

  • Cold Symptoms: Coughs (anti-tussive), sore throats, bringing up phlegm, antiviral and anti-allergenic. Apart from having a delightful flavor, licorice root is the best ingredient for Throat Coat teas because it possesses demulcent, which soothes inflamed or irritated tissue. This is fantastic for acid reflux as well! It also contains saponins, which are anti-inflammatory chemicals that act a lot like steroids. Who doesn’t want some of that while they’re sick? Use in teas or infusions.

  • Auto-Immune Disorders: Licorice root isn’t known as the Great Detoxifier and the Grandfather of Chinese herbs for no reason. It’s thought to be beneficial in the treatment of conditions that affect the stomach, kidneys and lungs, as well as the spleen. This includes lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis and animal dander allergies, according to TMC. It also acts as an anti-hepatotoxic, which is a strengthening stimulant for the functioning of the liver. Being what is called a spasmolytic (checking spasms), it can ease internal organs affected by such issues, which benefits the healing of things like gastric ulcers. This isn’t solely due to just one compound either; even with its glycyrrhizin removed (deglycyrrhizinated) it still shows beneficial activity in reducing gastric ulcers. Teas, infusions, tinctures, capsules.

  • Menstruation: Extracts of licorice root show estrogenic activity, which promotes the production of female sex hormones, which can help bring on menstruation as well as regulate the monthly cycles. It’s particularly useful in the follicular phase. Women who have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) can benefit from it, as it brings high testosterone levels into balance. Teas, infusions tinctures, capsules.

  • Fatigue: Who says that a happy thought can’t carry weight? Not only are there compounds in licorice believed to aid with fatigue (with its effect on estrogen metabolism and stimulation to the immune system, it treats CFS and Fibromyalgia by increasing cortisol activity and reducing stress levels), the mere taste of licorice root is actually proved as a stimulant for the mind as well, just like a sucking candy or slice of cake might do! It’s sweetness is 30-50 times as strong as sucrose but without causing damage to the teeth. Just chewing on a stick or slice will bring your mouth a bountiful happiness that can last throughout the day! And you don’t have to worry about cavities. That’s my kind of candy.

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 How to Use Licorice Root

Licorice Root Teas or Infusions:

I have found that infusions of roots are much more effective (and less wasteful) than teas due to the more intense extraction by boiling. Apart from simply adding licorice root into a tea blend (any sicky time tea or just a delightful sweet tea), you can add ½ oz licorice (dried) root per 1 cup of water, which you will boil for 10 minutes. Strain and enjoy! Adults recommended only 2 cups a day, while children under over 50 pounds should have only ¾ cup a day. Children under 50 pounds should not ingest this tea.

Licorice Root Tincture:

Tinctures are always a quick way to get a good dose of medicine. To make your own, fill a standard mason jar ½ full of dried licorice root. Pour vodka (80+ proof) over the root until it reaches the neck of the jar, leaving about ½ inch to spare. Remove air bubbles if necessary with a knife. Screw on the lid tight and store it away from sunlight for 4-6 weeks, shaking occasionally. Strain through cheesecloth or straining towels (or herb press, if you have one) and pour liquid into amber droppers or bottles for long lasting use.

Licorice Root Supplements:

You can buy licorice root at most health food stores. The important thing to remember if taking a supplement, be sure to distinguish which one you will need: In small, infrequent doses, you should have no problem taking the glycyrrhizinated vitamins; if you are taking it habitually, make sure you get the delycyrhhizinated  (DGL) supplement. It should contain no more than 2% for safe long-term use.

Side Effects and Warnings:

Although this herb has been indeed used for thousands of years and has a low toxicity, people who have high blood pressure or are sensitive to estrogen should be advised. Even sucking on a piece or taking a small dose can raise your blood pressure for a short time. A little goes a long way with this herb. Pregnant women should ALWAYS consult with a doctor before trying an herb, particularly one that can possibly raise their blood pressure, please be careful, mommies!

Long-term usage has been shown to cause potassium depletion. It’s toxicities are correlated to its corticosteroid nature (mostly from its chief constituents glycyrrhizin and enoxolone), and it can cause cortisoldegradation, including oedema, hypokalaemia, weight gain or loss, and hypertension. People with previously existing heart conditions or kidney problems may be more susceptible to licorice root poisoning.

Recommended dosage is 100 mg to 200 mg per day, or about 70 to 150 grams of licorice. As always, check your sources and don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor or experienced herbalist.

That’s it, Folks! Go out and get you some licorice root for the cold season (or just the sweets-craving season) and experiment a bit! I’ll be back next week with the Monthly Wort: Licorice Root, Part 3 in which we talk about this herb’s connection to the spiritual world.

Mountain Hedgewitch

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