licorice image from New Medical Terms



A preparation from the root of the perennial European legume Glycyrrhiza glabra, which contains asparagine, betaine, chalcones, choline, coumarins, flavonoids, glycyrrhizin, gums, isoflavonoids, saponins, and sugars. It has a high content of glycyrrhizic acid–glucuronic acid + glycyrrhetinic acid which is structurally similar to steroids, explaining its anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, and antirheumatic effects; it is also antitussive, demulcent, expectorant, laxative, sedative, and reduces serum glucose and cholesterol.


Licorice is used topically for abscesses and wounds, and internally for abdominal pain and spasms, alcohol and other intoxications, asthma, cholecystitis, cirrhosis, colds, coughing and wheezing, constipation, diabetes, fever, gastritis, gastric ulcers, heartburn, hepatitis, lung congestion, and sore throat


In Western herbal medicine, Glycyrrhiza glabra is used topically for eczema, herpes, and skin infections, and internally for arthritis, colic, constipation, cough, gastric ulcers, hepatitis, and for many of the same conditions as traditional Chinese medicine

Toxicity Excess licorice causes mineralocorticoid excess,* with sodium and water retention, hypertension, hypokalemia, myopathy with myoglobulinuria; it should not be used in patients with glaucoma, hypertension, renal disease, or in pregnancy.

*Suppresses 11 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase and the RAA axis


Licorice has an unsubstantiated reputation as an aphrodisiac. Its erotic power is mentioned in the Kama Sutra. Licorice potions have been recommended for “sexual vigour”. 

A study by The Smell and Taste Research Foundation (psychiatrist, AR Hirsch) found that blood flow to the genitalia increased when the test subjects sniffed licorice; it also increased when they sniffed doughnuts and cola. 

Synonyms Gan cao, gan tsao, honey grass, mi tsao, sweetwood; medicinal species Glycyrrhiza glabra, Glycyrrhiza echinata, Glycyrrhiza uralensis

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