Licorice: what it is, therapeutic properties, nutritional values, contraindications and uses

Licorice: what it is, therapeutic properties, nutritional values, contraindications and uses

The botanical name of licorice is Glycyrrhiza glabra and means “sweet root”. In fact, it is from the root system of the plant that the classic “stick” is obtained, to be held in the mouth and sucked to obtain all its aromatic sweetness.

Not only that, an extract is also obtained which, processed and solidified, is transformed into very tasty flakes or black candies. Its medicinal and thirst-quenching properties have been known since ancient times.

Licorice has numerous anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties. As well as its roots help fight digestive disorders (dyspepsia), inflammation of the respiratory system and skin diseases. It also has laxative properties and is helpful for those suffering from low blood pressure, while those suffering from high blood pressure should avoid it.

However, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, licorice should be eliminated. In fact, during gestation the passage of hormonal substances to the fetus could occur since the hypertensive effect of glycyrrhizin would inhibit the normal filter function performed by the placenta.

Licorice: what is it

The plant from which licorice is obtained is a legume belonging to the Fabaceae family. In botany the species is known under the name Glycyrrhiza glabra L. This is the best known species of the genus Glycyrrhiza, but it is not the only one. In fact, there are twenty species altogether.

Effects of licorice on blood pressure

Licorice raises blood pressure and is therefore recommended for those suffering from low blood pressure, however, those suffering from high blood pressure should moderate their consumption.

The main active constituent of licorice is glycyrrhizin, which is subsequently converted in the intestines.

Despite many health benefits, glycyrrhizin derivatives inhibit an enzyme that oxidizes cortisol into cortisone. This generates high blood cortisol levels and induces a mild form of apparent mineralocorticoid excess in the kidney, and increases systemic vascular resistance.

But this phenomenon, protracted over time and related to an excessive consumption of licorice, creates a state of hypernatremia (electrolyte disturbance characterized by a high concentration of sodium in the blood) and a lack of potassium in the blood with a consequent increase in the volume of liquids, which they can cause serious life-threatening complications, especially in patients already suffering from cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, recent studies have correlated licorice intake and blood pressure revealing statistically significant increases in both systolic blood pressure (5.45 mmHg) and diastolic blood pressure (3.19/1.74 mmHg).

Licorice: health benefits

Several studies have observed numerous beneficial effects of licorice, some already known because they have been handed down from a millenary popular medicine, others less known but with marked pharmaceutical properties.

Licorice compounds have demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antiviral, hepatoprotective, antiulcerative properties.

Cough, cold and intestinal disorders

Flavonoids have the ability to inhibit inflammation in the airways of the respiratory system, proving to be excellent calming of asthmatic phenomena, with an expectorant and secretolytic action.

Furthermore, the flavonoids of licorice have a beneficial effect on inflammatory bowel disorders.

Preventive action against functional dyspepsia and ulcer

General symptoms of functional dyspepsia include upper abdominal fullness, epigastric pain, belching, bloating, early satiety, nausea, vomiting, regurgitation, heartburn, and loss of appetite.

In 2011, a study was conducted to evaluate the efficacy of an extract of glycyrrhiza glabra in patients suffering from functional dyspepsia. The extract showed a significant reduction in symptoms. Its effectiveness has led to a marked improvement in the quality of life of the treated subjects, proving to be a safe product and well tolerated by all patients.

Licorice has also been reported to improve gastric mucus secretion and to have anti-ulcer healing activity.

A study of glabridin and glabrene (flavonoids found in licorice root) revealed anti-Helicobacter pylori activity, and licorice extract also showed a significant beneficial effect on all forms of infection by this bacterium. In another study, licorice, deprived of glycyrrhizin, was shown to be effective in relieving gastric mucosal ulceration.

This healing effect has been known for some time, but clinical trials on patients, conducted since the 1970s, have confirmed the beneficial potential of licorice in the treatment of ulcerative conditions and gastrointestinal disorders, such as peptic ulcers, canker sores, inflammatory bowel disease and so on.

Licorice to fight stress

Thanks to the function of regulating blood sugar, licorice is attributed an anti-stress action which would also favor a better predisposition to sleep.

Benefits in menopause to reduce hot flashes

Licorice is one of the plants that are traditionally used to relieve the symptoms of menopause.

Scientific research has gone far to evaluate the effects of licorice on the symptoms of the condition of menostasis. Furthermore, it has been observed that licorice does not behave very differently from the effect of hormones, attenuating the number and duration of the typical hot flashes of the climacteric. It would be particularly effective in reducing its duration.

Licorice: how to use

Licorice root to fight colds

5 to 15 grams per day, 3 times/day. To be taken after each meal in powder, infusion or decoction (2 to 5 g in 150 ml of water).

Licorice herbal tea to digest and deflate the belly


  • 2 liters of water.
  • ½ stick of licorice.
  • 2 tablespoons of organic dry lemongrass.


  • Put the water to boil.
  • Add the licorice and dried lemongrass.
  • Leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
  • Strain and pour into a water jug.
  • Licorice powder as a natural ingredient in beauty

    As a cosmetic ingredient, licorice powder is recognized for its properties:

    • Soothing.
    • Brighteners (gives luminosity to the skin).
    • Antioxidants: excellent as an anti-wrinkle treatment.

    It is indicated for skins:

    • Mature.
    • With eczema and psoriasis.
    • Atopic dermatitis.
    • Sensitive skin.


    Licorice powder is an effective natural remedy to fight bad breath.

    In fact, it gives a fresh and fragrant breath. With your toothbrush, mix half a teaspoon of powder with your usual toothpaste in a bowl and brush your teeth carefully. Rinse.

    Licorice: nutritional values

    Chemical analysis of the root extract has a preponderance of starches and carbohydrates (D-glucose and sucrose) with a modest amount of fat and protein.

    In particular, the composition is interesting due to the high content of minerals and very precious compounds, namely coumarins, triterpenic saponins, sterols and flavonoids. Especially flavanones, chalcones, isoflavones and isoflavonols, which are all substances with antioxidant activity and some of them responsible for the yellow color of the root.

    In particular, the substance that most characterizes licorice is glycyrrhizin, also known as glycyrrhizic acid.

    In fact, the metabolites of glycyrrhizin, glycyrrhetic acid and glabridin (an isoflavone, polyphenolic compound), can be considered the most representative “active ingredients” of the root, like those of the derived “drugs”, effective in the therapy of various pathologies.

    Licorice: contraindications and side effects

    As mentioned, it is necessary to pay attention to the dosage of licorice that is taken in order not to incur possible side effects. In general, both children and people over 55 years of age should not take higher doses than recommended and for prolonged periods of time.

    In fact, an excess of glycyrrhizin could create an imbalance in the concentration of mineral salts in the blood and could cause excessive water retention with a consequent temporary increase in blood pressure.

    Those with hypertension problems can take it only occasionally, within the recommended doses.

    Furthermore, licorice is not recommended for those suffering from hypokalemia and hypernatremia, as well as for those with severe renal insufficiency.

    Licorice in pregnancy

    During pregnancy and breastfeeding, licorice is not recommended.

    In fact, during gestation, the passage of hormonal substances to the fetus could occur since the hypertensive effect of glycyrrhizin would inhibit the normal filter function performed by the placenta.

    Instead, during breastfeeding, the excess of cortisol in the blood, caused by the inhibition of the enzyme responsible for its transformation into cortisone, could cause hypertension, mineral imbalance and water retention in both the mother and the newborn, through a of substances in milk.

    Licorice and medicines

    With the intake of some medicines, licorice should be absolutely avoided. In particular, it interferes with some categories of anticoagulants, with cardiokinetic or cardiotonic drugs, extracted from foxglove flowers, digital drugs, for example, digoxin.

    In addition, it may render diuretic medicines, medicines to control high blood pressure, medicines that are metabolized by the liver, estrogens and corticosteroids ineffective.

    In any case, it is always advisable to seek the advice of your doctor.

    How to consume licorice

    Sucking dried licorice roots, so-called “sticks”, is still in use today. The product is located in …