Licorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a legume, and its roots have a sweet flavor. The roots contain compounds, like anethole and glycyrrhizic acid, that are responsible for the sweetness and other properties of this herb. Licorice was used by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians for therapeutic purposes. This herb was used for treating stomach disorders as well as respiratory problems. It was very widely used in Asia and Europe too.
Today, licorice is used as flavoring agent and as a herbal medicine. It is available as root extract, tablets, root tea, candies, etc. You may also come across tobacco products flavored with licorice. However, use of licorice in high doses, that too for a long term, may result in serious side effects.
Licorice roots are otherwise known as sweet wood, sweet root, black sugar, and liquorice. The most common use of licorice root is for treating respiratory problems, like bronchitis and asthma. It is also widely used as an expectorant, and is an active ingredient in cough syrups. It is found to be effective for relieving the symptoms of allergic conditions, like hay fever and allergic rhinitis.
Stomach ulcers are also treated with licorice. The herb is said to be beneficial for treating conditions, like Crohn's disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ileitis, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Licorice is used to cure sore throat, bloating and acidity, menstrual cramps, and symptoms of menopause. It is said that consumption of licorice boosts the immune system, thereby preventing viral infections. So, this herb is used for treating viral hepatitis and genital herpes. It is also suggested that licorice can lower LDL cholesterol and prevent arteriosclerosis. This herb is also used for treating skin conditions, like eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis.
Like many other herbs, excess use of licorice may cause certain side effects. Usually, such side effects are associated with factors, like excess consumption, interaction with other drugs, and the physical condition of the user. In case of licorice, studies suggest that the presence of glycyrrhizic acid is the reason behind such side effects.
Nowadays, you may come across two types of licorice products - one with glycyrrhizic acid and the other without that compound. The most common side effects of licorice roots include headache, breathing difficulty, water retention, stomach ache, and joint stiffness. Long-term use of this herb has been linked to problems, like high blood pressure, edema, liver problems, kidney diseases, and pseudoaldosteronism. As per a study conducted by the European Commission in 2008, excess use of licorice with glycyrrhizic acid may result in muscle weakness, chronic fatigue, headaches, inflammation, and low testosterone levels in men.
It has been observed that most of the side effects are caused by high doses. Licorice roots should not be taken by people with high blood pressure, diabetes, cirrhosis, kidney problems, heart diseases, low blood potassium levels, estrogen-sensitive disorders, etc. Pregnant and nursing women and small kids should also avoid use of this herb. It is better to avoid licorice, if you are taking diuretics or heart medication. In case, you wish to use this herb for medicinal purposes, consult a qualified herbal practitioner and follow his instructions.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.