Licorice has a centuries-long reputation of being grandma’s sore throat remedy. Its botanical name is Glycyrrhiza glabra. The word Glycyrrhiza is derived from the Greek term glykos (meaning sweet) and rhiza (meaning root) and hence the name given to this ‘sweet root’. Similarly, in the Ayurvedic materia medica it is called Yashti (wood) Madhu (honey), or honey-like wood.
Ayurveda considers this herb as having a sweet taste, heavy and unctuous properties and a cooling effect. Due to these properties it is considered good for eyesight, useful in increasing strength and immunity and improving skin complexion. It is good for improving hair quality and voice quality (on chewing and taken orally with honey). It’s a potent blood detoxifier and anti vomiting agent (in small quantities; in large quantities it can cause nausea). It’s also a potent anti inflammatory, an effective fever reducing herb and reliever of emaciation, tiredness and excessive thirst.
Licorice is used for the purpose of anti-aging therapy. Regular intake of 2 grams of licorice powder, along with half a cup of warm milk is advised by the ancient book of Ayurvedic medicine Charak Samhita. This is an excellent brain tonic and rejuvenator.
It pacifies Pitta and Vata. It helps to bring out the phlegm (the pathological form of Kapha) in small amounts but in high amounts can aggravate Kapha.
There have been concerns about the use of licorice and blood pressure. A very high amount of 30 grams per day of licorice for many weeks may cause an increase in blood pressure. But usually, according to Ayurveda, the daily dose is not more than 3 grams per day. Still a person with hypertension should avoid taking it for too long. They should monitor their blood pressure if they need to take it for a long period of time and should stop if blood pressure increases.
In traditional medicine, licorice is used in loss of appetite due to acidity, as an anti-inflammatory agent during allergenic reactions and as a contraceptive, laxative and anti-asthmatic herb. It is used to stimulate menstruation and milk production. It has been found useful against anemia, gout, sore throat, tonsillitis, flatulence, sexual debility, fever, skin diseases, swellings, jaundice, hiccup, hoarseness and bronchitis. It is considered an excellent tonic for the genitourinary tract and is used as a demulcent in catarrh of the genitourinary passages.
Licorice root works on all skin types, be it oily skin, irritated or mature and uneven skin.
Licorice as a natural demulcent due to its ‘Snigdha’ or oily property as written in Ayurvedic texts, exhibits a mild smoothening and brightening action on skin. Used in serums, spot treatments, cleansers, and masks, it helps in the fading of hyper-pigmentation and sun damage for all skin tones in a safe manner. It blocks melanin production to prevent the formation of hyper-pigmentation. Its usage leaves the skin brighter, hydrated and clearer. The root extracts are potent for red, acne-prone skin as well as for dull complexions and dehydrated skin. The root also contains a particular compound that works as a gentle sunscreen.
Many of the properties found in licorice are able to soothe the scalp, ridding it of irritations such as dandruff and scabs. It’s mollifying properties open pores and are great for the hair shaft. It can be used with henna to mask its smell and enhance its hair conditioning effect which results in silky, shiny hair. Ayurveda has labelled it ‘Keshya’ or that which is beneficial for hair for obvious reasons.
It has been proved by several years of research that, glycyrrhizin breaks down in the gut and exerts anti-inflammatory action similar to hydrocortisone and other corticosteroid hormones. The effect is due to stimulation of hormone production by adrenal glands and reduction in the breakdown of steroids by the liver and kidneys.
Effectiveness of glycyrrhizin in the treatment of chronic hepatitis and liver cirrhosis is also proven.
Glycyrrhiza glabra is considered one of the best remedies for relieving pain and other symptoms such as discomfort caused by acrid matter in the stomach. It alleviates the irritating effects of acids in a better way than antacids. Glycyrrhiza Glabra strengthens the gastric mucosal defense system, neutralizes gastric acid, increases the concentration of dissolved mucous substances and helps in healing of gastric and duodenal ulcers. Its flavonoids have been shown to kill Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes most ulcers and stomach inflammation.
In animal studies licorice produces a persistent antitussive (anti cough) effect.
G. glabra has alkaloids like glycyrrhizin which can relieve IgE-induced allergic diseases such as dermatitis and asthma.
Cholesterol reducing and antioxidant effects of Glycyrrhiza glabra has been attributed to its increased bile-acid and cholesterol excretory effect through bile. It has also been shown to significantly reduce bad cholesterol and increase good HDL-cholesterol.
It has estrogen like activity and is useful in female hormonal replacement therapy support and also aids in depression associated with PMS or menopause.
In a study done on rats the application of petroleum ether extract of G. glabra roots showed longer hair than those treated with either minoxidil (a potent drug used to stimulate hair growth) or control.
The extract of licorice is reported to be an effective pigment lightening agent. It is the safest pigment-lightening agent known with least side effects. Glabridin in the hydrophobic fraction of licorice extract inhibits tyrosinase activity, an enzyme responsible for controlling the production of melanocytes, the pigment cells of the skin.In vitro tyrosinase enzyme inhibition studies has showed that 21.2 μg/ml of methanolic extract of liquorice caused 50% tyrosinase enzyme inhibition. The inhibition of tyrosinase enzyme and reduction in enzyme activity is caused due to modification of action site of the enzyme. Due to good tyrosinase inhibition activity, liquorice extract can be used to formulate cosmetic formulations with depigmentation activity.It has also been reported that Liquiritin present in liquorice extract disperses melanin, thereby inducing skin lightening.
Ethanolic extract of Glycyrrhiza glabra is reported to show improvement in the viscoelastic and hydration properties of the skin. Synergistic effect of UV protective, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of licorice extract might be responsible for giving beneficial effects on the skin.1
Licorice can be taken orally in the dose of 1- 2 grams with water or milk once to twice a day under supervision of a practitioner for a stipulated period.
Licorice extract or powder can be mixed in honey, cucumber juice, raw milk, rose water and applied on the skin. The powder can be mixed in henna and applied on the scalp.
Licorice during pregnancy: According to a study in Finland, mothers who ate high doses of licorice gave birth to children with low IQ. However, the amount of licorice to produce that effect would be 250 gms of licorice powder in a week! So, as a precaution, one may choose to avoid regular use of licorice or licorice-containing herbal preparations for internal use during pregnancy.
Licorice is usually not recommended to anyone with high blood pressure.
Licorice is a mild laxative. Prolonged use may deplete potassium levels. Use of licorice should be shared with and monitored by your doctor.
Licorice in excessive dosage causes nausea and vomiting. It has variable degrees of intolerance and hence should not be used without medical advice or supervision.
Licorice should be taken with caution by women on birth control pills, those with high blood pressure, pregnant women and nursing mothers.
1 Ahshawat MS, Saraf S, Saraf S. Preparation and characterization of herbal creams for improvement of skin viscoelastic properties. International Journal of Cosmetic Science 2008; 30(3):183-193.
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