Licorice: More than a Sweet Treat!

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a wonderful herb that has been used as both food and medicine for thousands of years. The root contains a compound that is 50x sweeter than sugar, making it very useful for ‘masking’ other not-so-favorable flavors! (Note: most licorice “candy” isn’t actually licorice – it is often a mix of flour and sugar and anise oil, for flavor – tasty, but not the real deal!)

Licorice is highly valued for its soothing action upon mucous membranes and for helping to calm the cough reflex. It’s often included in cough and asthma remedies for these reasons (and for its sweet taste and flavor). 

Licorice is also one of nature’s best ‘stress’ herbs – it is superb for fatigued adrenals and provides natural anti-inflammatory benefit, similar to cortisol.

One of Licorice’s most useful applications is for ulcers (stomach and duodenal). It provides benefit in 2 separate ways:

1. Improves the quality and quantity of protective mucous that is produced. If the stomach or duodenal lining is not sufficiently protected by a layer of mucous, it can be damaged by the acidic nature of the gastric contents. This weakens the lining and makes it more vulnerable to infection and inflammation.

2. Inhibits the organism associated with causing most ulcers, Helicobacter pylori. This bacteria, which may be normal flora when present in very small numbers, can flourish and cause chronic inflammation and ulcers when there is insufficient or poor quality mucous, to protect the stomach or intestinal lining. Chronic infection with H. pylori has been implicated in stomach cancer.

Some individuals may be sensitive to Licorice’s potential blood pressure-raising effect. This effect is due to its sweet constituent, glycyrrhizin. Deglycyrrhizinated (DGL) Licorice products, such as chewable DGL tablets for ulcers, are available, though if you have high blood pressure it is probably best to avoid using Licorice unless you do so under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

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Paulina Nelega, MLT, RH

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