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Licorice Root

Veterinarian Reviewed on June 6, 2012 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Uncategorized

Licorice Root, aka Gan Cao (Radix Blyeyrrhizae Uralensis)


The licorice root has a sweet taste and Chinese medicine relates this herb to Ginseng. It is a tall plant that grows up to 2 meters tall with smaller branches coming off it. Licorice root is harvested twice a year, in spring and fall, when the roots are removed from the rootlet and allowed to dry in the sun. Traditional preparation frequently utilizes honey to enhance flavor and add sweetness.


Many herbs are treasured in several cultures and the Licorice root is certainly one of them. It was found interred in the burial tomb of King Tutankhamen in Egypt amongst his treasures and holdings for the afterlife. It has also been documented as Er Ya in Chinese manuscripts as early as 200 B.C. Licorice root was used worldwide in ancient times by Indians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese. It was traditionally used to increase sexual libido and was mixed as a beverage with milk and sugar. It has also been used traditionally as a remedy for treating pectoral diseases, coughs and to alleviate hunger.

Ancient Uses

Traditional uses for Licorice root are varied due to the many natural benefits it contains. It has been used for many intestinal ailments such as heartburn, colic, stomach ulcers and lesions, reoccurring inflammation of stomach lining (chronic gastritis) and the spleen. Respiratory sufferers have found comfort in consuming licorice. It aids in relieving sore throats, bronchitis, chronic coughing, bacterial infections of the lungs as well as viral infections. Licorice has also found use in treatments for malaria, osteoarthritis, liver disorders, food poisoning and chronic fatigue. It has natural pain relievers and many have found it to relieve dull aches and acute pain.

Modern Uses

Modern use of Licorice root is primarily used for flavoring. Most frequently it is used within tobacco. Over 80% of the United States imported licorice is founded in tobacco.
Oddly enough many “licorice” products manufactured in the United States do not contain any actual licorice. They instead have anise oils that have the characteristic aroma and taste of black licorice. So make certain to check the ingredients label to ensure it contains licorice.

In Western medicine, licorice is believed to have anti viral and anti bacterial effects. It is used to reduce eye inflammation.
Licorice is often combined with Panax Ginseng and Chai Hu for increased function of the adrenal gland. This is most often prescribed for people who have used steroids for a prolonged period of time; steroids tend to inhibit the activity of the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland is vital to the production of hormones that handle the effects of stress on the body. It has found use as a fertility treatment, also known as Shakuyaku-kanzo-to. It aides in the treatment of a hormonal disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome.

When combined with other herbs it can help fight prostate cancer and skin ailments such as eczema. It is also found in many shampoos to help reduce oiliness and help treat scalp eczema, excessive dandruff and other maladies.

When combined with other herbs, it increases their activity and improves their taste. Other studies have shown that licorice may reduce body fat and is consumed by overweight people to aide in weight loss. Licorice is found in several forms as a dried root, a tincture or an extract. All forms are made from the dried root.

Side Effects

The side effects of this herb are rare but include Headaches, salt retention, and potassium secretion and raised blood pressure. As it enhances many medications and herbal treatments, make certain to discuss with your healthcare provider if you are taking licorice supplements or plan on taking them in the future. Its use should be avoided by pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Read also: Jin Yin Hua

Our Expert

Paulina Nelega, RH
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan

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