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Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

What is Licorice?

Licorice is very popular among both western and traditional Chinese herbalists. A few different species of the herb can be found growing in both Europe and Asia, and there are closely related species native to North and South America as well.

In almost all parts of the world where licorice grows, it’s used for the same applications.

The main use of licorice is for supporting symptoms of chronic stress, anxiety, and burnout. It’s used during convalescence to restore energy levels and give the body a chance to recover faster. In Chinese medicine, licorice is thought of as a guiding herb — helping to bring the actions of the other herbs in the formula to where they need to go inside the body.

Licorice has hormetic effects on stress and anxiety. The herb contains compounds that inhibit the activity of an enzyme that breaks down the stress hormone (cortisol) as well as compounds that mimic the effects of cortisol (glucocorticoids) — resulting in temporarily higher concentrations of the hormone.

This causes spikes in blood pressure, and can temporarily make feelings of stress and anxiety worse. However, shortly after this effect, the body will begin to downregulate cortisol production, resulting in a net reduction in stress.

Licorice also contains a compound that has a powerful sweet flavor (glycyrrhizin) which is used as a natural calorie-free sweetener. This same compound is used for alleviating ulcers in the digestive tract.

Common Names For Licorice

  • Bois Doux (France)
  • Gan Cao (China)
  • Kamcho (Korea)
  • Kanzo (Japan)
  • Lakrids (Danish)
  • Lakritzenwurzel (Germany)
  • Licorice
  • Liquirizia (Italy)
  • Reglisse
  • Subholzwurzel (Germany)
  • Sweet root
  • Yashimadhu (Sanskrit)

Herbal Actions of Licorice

  • Analgesic (mild)
  • Anti-ulcer
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antispasmodic
  • Emollient
  • Estrogenic (mild)
  • Expectorant
  • Nootropic (mild)

Safety & Contraindications

Never use licorice if you have high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. The herb can cause blood pressure and heart rate to spike, which brings with it increased risk of stroke or heart attack.

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