How to Eat More Licorice
Would the real licorice please stand up!
Please answer the following multiple choice question:
What is licorice?
a) A cherry-red twisty tubular confection that smells like a mix between new flip-flops and cherry chapstick. May also be used as a straw when both ends are delicately bitten off.
b) A black tubular confection with notes of molasses and anise. A widely debated food item; “Love It” and “Hate It” camps highly polarized.
c) A hard, fibrous, naturally sweet-tasting root that nobody knows about, except for herbalists.
Soooo, the answer is ‘c’. Did you get it right?!
If you didn’t, don’t feel bad (unless you’re a herbalist). Licorice is a much bastardized substance that has, with each generation, strayed further from its original roots (literally).
The history of licorice’s use dates back thousands of years ago. Large amounts of licorice root were even found in the tomb of King Tut! It is believed that the ancient Egyptians used to drink it as a digestive tonic.
In the middle ages, licorice root was introduced into Europe. Before sugar was widely available, people were creative about getting their sweet tooth satisfied, and so they discovered that if you boiled licorice root until most of the water evaporated, you got a thick, resinous, sweet syrup. Candy and medicinal pastilles from licorice concentrate were then created, and the trend snowballed from there into licorice ropes, bears, wheels, and tubes, finally morphing into the red licorice that abounds today.
And just so we’re clear: the red stuff isn’t medicine anymore.
However, licorice (latin name: Glycyrrhiza glabra) still prevails in herbal medicine, where it is used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic, and Western formulations. Licorice root is mostly used to nourish, soothe, and lubricate the mucous membranes of the digestive tract and stimulate tired adrenals glands.
Traditionally, licorice root is used in its whole form, but some preparations use a form called deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL). In this preparation, a compound known as glycyrrhizin has been removed. Although many of licorice’s benefits are due to this very constituent, it can also cause high blood pressure. Consumers can still get the soothing digestive benefits of licorice root without the blood pressure raising effect by looking for DGL licorice supplements.
In the list of benefits below, I will be referring to the whole licorice root, unless otherwise specified.
Let’s take a closer look at all this root has to offer:
Stimulates pooped out adrenals
In cases of chronic stress, after a period of hyperactivity, the adrenals (the stress “shock absorbers” in our body) can plain old poop out. Activity and output decreases resulting in low energy and fatigue. Licorice can help stimulate the adrenals and improve energy. It does this by restoring levels of cortisol (our “alertness” hormone) and DHEA (a “master hormone” that functions as a precursor to our sex hormones).
Some studies have shown that licorice root can reduce testosterone in both men and women [2, 3]. Why might this be useful? Even though both studies used healthy participants, we might extrapolate these results for use in disorders marked by high levels of testosterone, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in women. More research is needed.
Increases blood pressure
This may not sound like a good thing, but for those with chronic low blood pressure and all the symptoms that go along with it (fatigue, dizziness, brain fog, fainting, etc), it is! Again, licorice increases blood pressure by stimulating the adrenals and increasing cortisol.
Decrease in lipid peroxidation
Ooh! Fancy medical term! Basically this means licorice can help reduce free radical damage due to oxidized fats in the body . Lipid peroxidation is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease .
Soothes canker sores
A study using a patch infused with licorice extract applied to cankers sores reduced the pain and size of the canker . I haven’t seen licorice patches on the market yet, but if you are prone to cankers, I would try licorice tea, sipped frequently throughout the day. Given its history of being used as a healer and soother of the mucous membranes, this makes sense.
Eases heartburn & ulcers
DGL has been used with success in the management of heartburn and other gastric problems like ulcers . My recommended form of DGL is as a chewable tablet or a powder to be dissolved in a small amount of water and sipped as a tea. It’s nice and malty tasting.
Want to discover some creative ways to eat more of this sweet, sweet root? Here are some unique and delicious recipes:
Alex Picot-Annand, BA (Psych), Registered Holistic Nutritionist & Certified Life Coach