What is licorice?

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licorice plant
Licorice is an herb, which is used medicinally and is very different from the multi-colored candy.
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Real licorice is black, sweet and has medicinal properties

Some people love the taste of real licorice, while others detest it.

If you are an absinthe drinkers, then you are apparently fond of licorice because this distilled liquor tastes like a straight shot of licorice. Absinthe, which is emerald green, is reportedly a hallucinogenic and inspired famous writers, poet and artists while they were under the influence. Licorice is one of the ingredients of absinthe.

Licorice candy and licorice root actually have very little to do with one another. They are completely different products. The flavor in licorice candy is derived from anise oil and actually contains very little or no licorice. Anise oil is very similar to licorice in flavor.

So what is licorice? Licorice refers to the rhizome and roots of plants that belong to the Glycyrrhiza glabra L of the Fabaceae family species from Europe and the Glycyrrrhiza uralensis Fisch from Asia. Most of the licorice in the U.S. is bought from China and other Asian countries. Other names for licorice, which is an herb, include Zhi Gan Cao and liquiritral radix. Licorice is a perennial that consists of pinnate leaves and downy stems. It boasts violet or pale blue flowers. The dried roots are the part of the herb that is used.

What is licorice good for besides eating? A lot, in fact. It is considered a soothing herb that has expectorant and anti-inflammatory properties. It reportedly helps reduce swelling, control coughing, has laxative effects as well as hormonal effects. It is believed to prevent toxicity of the liver and is used to treat adrenal-corticoid insufficiency and tuberculosis. For years, licorice has been used to treat coughs and colds and has been especially popular in China.

Licorice has an effect on the adrenal glands, in a good way, and acts very much as does a steroid when introduced to the body. Licorice has long been valued for its soothing properties and coating effects as well as its ability to get rid of mucous and phlegm from the respiratory tract.

Licorice is taken orally (internally) to treat peptic ulcers, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, coughs, allergic complaints and is often used post steroid therapy. It reportedly speeds up the healing of ulcers. Of course, licorice can be chewed as a candy. 

The Chinese believe that licorice detoxifies the digestive system and body, revitalizes the heart, treats heart palpitations, boosts the function of the spleen and is effective for treating wheezing. The Chinese maintain that licorice improves the digestive system, which is called the middle Jiao in China. It is also thought to remove toxic substances and heat from the body, as well as moisturize the lungs, reduce pain and eliminate spasms. Licorice brings high levels of prostaglandins into the stomach and upper intestine, which helps heal stomach ulcers.

Externally, licorice can be used to treat shingles, eczema and herpes. It has an anti-inflammatory effect, which is very useful for treating piles (hemorrhoids), pruritis, insect bites and sunburn. The main ingredient in licorice is glycyrrhetinic acid with 24-hydroxyglycyrrhetinic acid, the latter being 100 times sweeter than sugar. Because licorice is so sweet, it is frequently used as a sweetening agent to disguise the unpleasant taste of medicine.

There are dangers associated with using too much licorice and, for some people with medical conditions, using it at all. Licorice can cause a condition called pseudo-aldosteronism, which is very much like the condition that is caused by excessive secretion of an adrenal-cortex hormone called aldosterone. The result is high blood pressure and, conceivably, a heart attack and even cardiac arrest. Other symptoms include lethargy, headache, water and sodium retention and excreting too much potassium.

Pregnant women should not use licorice nor should those with liver disorders, including cirrhosis; kidney problems; high blood pressure; those taking digoxin-based medications or anyone who has iron poor blood (anemia) or hypteronia or hypokalemia. If you are using licorice for medicinal purposes, do so under the guidance of a skilled health practitioner.

Licorice can be toxic. The effects of the toxins will be apparent within a matter of days. 


Ageless: herbal licorice licorice

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