Liquorice root is a shrub that grows in subtropical climates. It has been used medicinally for more than 3000 years for its medicinal properties, and is often called 'The Grandfather of Herbs'.
It was used throughout history to treat a variety of complaints including congestion, coughs, colds, rashes, constipation and arthritis, and also for more serious problems such as cancer and hepatitis. The Chinese call it "the detoxifier", as it is thought to rid the body of poisons. Native Americans made a tea from liquorice, drank it as a laxative, and used it to treat earaches and coughs.
The major active ingredient is glycyrrhizin, which is responsible for its sweet taste - 50 times sweeter than sugar, and it also contains a chemical called glycyrrhetinic that has cough suppressant properties. It is anti-inflammatory and antiallergic, and therefore commonly used for the treatment of asthma. Liquorice also has demulcent (soothing and coating) properties, and is an anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-bacterial. It helps to soothe irritation and inflammation.
It is also used in modern medicine to;
reduce stomach acid and alleviate abdominal distension, nausea and vomiting
treat ulcers, including aphthous, gastric and duodenal ulcers
treat liver diseases and clear jaundice
inhibit bacterial growth and plaque formation
relax muscle activity
treat bronchitis, upper respiratory catarrh and coughs (it stimulates mucus production, and helps to loosen sticky phlegm making coughs more productive)
treat virus infections such as HIV and AIDS
improve estrogen metabolism and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Topically, liquorice can be used for the treatment of eczema, contact and allergic dermatitis, and psoriasis.
It is not recommended that liquorice be taken in large doses over a long period of time, as this may result in hypokalaemia, hypertension and oedema.