Licorice is an herbaceous perennial legume in the Fabaceae family native to Southern Europe and parts of Asia. It can grow 3-6 feet tall, and has pinnate leaves that grow in odd numbered leaflets. It has light purple to whitish flowers that bloom midsummer, fruits similar in appearance to peas, and stolon roots. Licorice prefers deep, well drained soils in full sun, and is grow in deep valleys throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and China. It takes 2 to 3 years to harvest the root, which, like most root harvesting, is done in the fall. Although it’s vigorous and can become invasive in the garden, frost will kill it, so it is recommended to be grown in greenhouses in colder climates. Typically licorice is grown by root cutting, and the flowers are continually headed to encourage the sweet sap to flow to the roots.
Licorice root is a expectorant, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, adrenal agent, anti-spasmodic, and mild laxative, good for the lungs, liver, digestive system, and the female reproductive system. Licorice affects the adrenal glands and endocrine system, revitalizing and restoring the natural function after such stresses on the body like steroid drug therapy and diseases such as Addison’s disease, where the glands produce abnormally low levels of hormones. Licorice also helps with bronchitis, sore throats, and coughs, working to expel mucus and soothe the inflamed membranes, combining well with horehound and coltsfoot. It also soothes peptic ulcers, gastritis, and helps with digestion, especially when combined with marshmallow, ginger, and meadowsweet. It’s used to help treat hot flashes in menopausal women when combined in equal parts with dong quai, burdock, motherwort, and wild yam. It can also boost the immune system and help with colds, especially when taken with ginger. The powdered root is also though to help herpes sores and small wounds heal quicker when applied directly. It has been shown, however, to block absorption of calcium and potassium, so should be used sparingly in osteoporosis cases. In Aryuvedic medicine, it is thought to improve complexion, brain function, voice, vision, and hair.
Licorice helps the liver detoxify, and is used to treat cancer and hepatitis in some countries, and research in Japan, India, and China, have shown that licorice increases survival rates of hepatitis patients and prevented liver cancer, as well as aiding recovering with cirrhosis. These treatment options should be discussed with professionals.
Licorice root has been used for thousands of years around the world. The Chinese used it medicinally around 3000 BC, and sticks of licorice were also found in King Tut’s tomb in Egypt. The Greeks and Romans also used licorice for sore throats, upset stomaches, and as an expectorant. In India, Aryuvedic practitioners recommended licorice as an expectorant and soother for sore throats. Much later, in the 15th-18th century, European healers similarly prescribed licorice for lung, digestive, heart, and throat troubles. Early American folk-healers promoted licorice for lung and throat troubles, as well as for “female hysteria”. It’s commonly used as a sweetener and flavoring in foods, beverages, and candy.
A decoction of 1-2 teaspoon per cup of water, simmered for 15 minutes, drunk three times daily, or 1-3 ml of a tincture three times daily.
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