Licorice root - properties and uses. Does licorice have a positive effect on health?
What is licorice root and where does it come from?
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza L.) is a species in the pea family. Its name comes from the Greek words glykis - "sweet", and rhiza - "root". It was originally called "sweet tree" or "sweet root" because of its particular sweet taste, 50 times sweeter than sugar. Licorice has this property thanks to glycyrrhizic acid, a chemical compound that belongs to the group of terpenes, saponins.
Interestingly, the licorice name covers about 36 different species. They occur naturally in Europe and Asia, and a few can also be found in Australia and America. Licorice root has been known for a very long time. The first information about the medicinal use of this plant comes from the Chinese book Shennong's Classic of Materia Medica dated to 2100 BC!
Licorice contains approximately 300 flavonoids and over 20 triterpenes, including 73 active ingredients responsible for its action.
Licorice is not only a root but also candy with black color and specific sweet and salty taste. Next to it there can be (but need not be) sugar and sodium chloride or ammonium chloride which gives the typical salty taste. Binding substances such as starch, flour, gelatin or gum arabic are responsible for the structure. The biggest fans of licorice candies are Italians, Dutch and Scandinavians.
Licorice as an ingredient is also found in other foods such as chewing gum, toothpaste or chewing tobacco.
We will take a closer look at this plant and its valuable properties.
What valuable properties does licorice have?
Licorice soothes digestive problems and, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, regenerates the stomach and intestinal mucosa. Licorice extract can also inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pyroli bacteria, which is one of the factors that cause, among other things, stomach ulcers (1,2). It has also been shown that licorice can reduce the need to cough by inhibiting the secretion of mucus in the airways (3). The plant can also be used by women during menopause, as licorice root helps to maintain the balance of the female hormonal system(4).
Our skin can also benefit from licorice root, the plant is suitable for the care of atopic eczema and for daily care of all skin types. Relieves irritation, itching, redness and swelling (5).
Licorice root has a very sweet, anise-like flavor with a bitter and salty aftertaste. The longer the root stays in water, the more intense the flavor, so it should not be soaked for too long.
It is best to prepare an infusion of licorice root. Just pour boiling water over the herb and brew for about 5 minutes - it's worth adjusting the amount and length of brewing to your own taste preferences.
It is worth adding a pinch of cut licorice root to the tea to give it an interesting, sweet taste. Licorice goes perfectly with spiced teas and ginger. However, not for fruit teas and lemon juice.
Licorice candy recipe:
30g ground licorice root
9 teaspoons gelatin or agar (vegan option)
6 tablespoons of lemon juice
optional: 1-2 tablespoons of sugar
1.Boil 500ml of water, add the licorice herb and cook on a low heat, covered, for 30 minutes, making sure it does not boil over.
2.After this time, set the pan aside for 10-15 minutes to allow the sediment to settle to the bottom.
3. Then pour out the extract from the sediment through a strainer into another pan. Let cool.
4. Add agar to the extract, mix and wait 5-10 minutes until it swells.
5. Add lemon juice. Heat the pan slowly and stir until the agar is dissolved. Don't let it boil!
6. If you want, add sugar or even a little salt and mix until dissolved.
7. Pour the prepared liquid into the mold and put it in the fridge for a few hours.
Can licorice root be harmful to health?
According to the Swedish Food Agency, it can be harmful to eat a lot of licorice for a long time (Livsmedelsverket 2023). There are up to an estimated value of how many milligrams of glycyrrhizic acid a person in the Nordics can eat per day, about 6–15 milligrams is the safe recommended dose. The amount varies greatly between different people, depending on how much licorice they eat. People are also differently sensitive to glycyrrhizic acid (Livsmedelsverket 2023).
What can happen if you eat too much licorice is, for example, the salt balance that can be disturbed in the body, you can get edema - an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the body - high blood pressure, weight gain, heart problems and headaches (Livsmedelsverket 2023).
There are also people who may be more sensitive to glycyrrhizic acid, and to that group you can include people with high blood pressure, heart defects, kidney diseases and pregnant women but also small children.
"Because children have a lower body weight, they are more sensitive than adults. Children under the age of five should therefore not regularly eat licorice and salmiak, but a few pieces once in a while are fine"(Livsmedelverket 2023).
1. Anti-Helicobacter pylori flavonoids from licorice extract. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12127165/
2. Antiulcer properties of Glycyrrhiza glabra L. extract on experimental models of gastric ulcer in mice. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26664383/
3. Glycyrrhizin attenuates mucus production by inhibition of MUC5AC mRNA expression in vivo and in vitro. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20453436/
4. Effects of licorice on relief and recurrence of menopausal hot flashes. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24250477/
5. The treatment of atopic dermatitis with licorice gel. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14522625/
6. Glycyrrhizinsyra i lakrits https://www.livsmedelsverket.se/livsmedel-och-innehall/oonskade-amnen/vaxtgifter/glycyrrhizinsyra (hämtad 20.09.2023)