Licorice Root – For Heart Burn, Sore Throats, Hormonal Support and More
Herbalists often talk about their 'deserted island' herbs. That is, if you were stranded on a deserted island, which are the top herbs that you would want with you in your medicine bag?
Licorice is definitely in my top ten, here's why.
Glycyrrhiza glabra, or licorice root, is one of the most used herbs in western, traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic herbal medicine. It has a sweet, easily identifiable flavour and can be used for a variety of medical conditions in a variety of ways. In my practice I use it as a tea, in capsule or tablet form, as a concentrated extract or an extract in alcohol and for topical use.
Although I love licorice and use it in many ways, this is a herb with more safety concerns than others – so check with your naturopathic doctor first! For example, it's not something that I usually recommend in large amounts for long term. If used long term, it could cause a loss of potassium. It should not be used by people with high blood pressure (as it could increase it in some people) and I monitor blood pressure in my patients who use it. There is a small chance that longer-term use of licorice could counteract the effectiveness of oral contraceptives.
Ulcers, GERD, Canker Sores, and Sore Throats
Licorice is known as a demulcent herb. A demulcent is something that is soothing to tissues. It works well to help soothe reflux (heart burn), the pain from ulcers or general digestive discomfort. For these concerns, DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) tablets are available in most health food stores and have most of the chemical glycyrrhizin removed to decrease the safety concerns (for example blood pressure). Licorice tea or extract in hot water is lovely on a sore throat and I have also used a paste made from licorice to soothe and help heal canker sores.
Anti-inflammatory and Antiviral
Licorice has been used topically for some inflammatory conditions such as eczema and acne. Given its anti-inflammatory effects as well as the fact that it has antiviral properties means it makes a nice addition to respiratory formulas that will also improve the flavour. I have also used it with good effect in my formulas for herpes and mononucleosis (both caused by viruses).
Given the time that this article is written in, I will add here that some experts have speculated that licorice may interfere with our response against COVID-19. As far as I know, there is not much evidence yet to support this warning, however, given that we know so little about that particular virus I do not want to give the impression that licorice would be a good choice to treat the COVID-19 virus.
On its own or in combination with other herbs, licorice often makes it into hormone balancing plans. Licorice is known to help decrease testosterone and in combination with peony, it has been shown to help with the symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (or PCOS, a very common hormonal condition among women). Licorice contains phytoestrogens – plant chemicals that mildly mimic the actions of estrogen, another reason that licorice can be helpful with hormone balancing. Certain chemicals in licorice can also influence cortisol, one of the important hormones from our adrenal glands. This leads to some of its health-supportive properties, and its potential concerns.
In conclusion, licorice is an excellent example of how herbs – whole plants – make wonderful and multi-use medicines. The fact that they are plants, complex with multiple chemical components means that they are versatile and often have many uses.
Dr. Alexis Blanks is a naturopathic doctor. She is co-owner of Flourish Naturopathic. She would be happy to see you virtually, or in her office to help you better understand your health and take it to the next level. Learn more at
Image by gate74 from Pixabay