Name: Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
Otherwise known as: Sweetwood, Regolizia
Habitat: A herbaceous perennial member of the Fabaceae family, native to south eastern Europe and south west Asia, universally cultivated for its root. It grows to about 1m, has an attractive pinnate leaf system and produces blue-violet flowers on a long-stalked spike.
What does it do: Liquorice is one of the most extensively used and scientifically researched herbs. It has been used for millennia. In Chinese medicine it is taken for strength and longevity; in Pharoanic Egypt it was the favoured confectionery; and the armies of Alexander carried it to allay thirst and prevent illness.
In 16th century England it was cultivated in Pontefract, a district of Yorkshire, where it was processed into ‘Pontefract cakes’, the shiny black sweets which became an important part of the regional economy.
For those who are only familiar with the plant as a laxative it may surprise them to know of its diverse pharmaceutical properties.
Liquorice is over 50 times sweeter than sugar and is used as a flavouring agent to mask the bitter taste of many medicines. By far the most popular use of the plant is in its treatment of ulcers of the stomach or duodenum: it exerts an effect similar to hydrocortisone in the treatment eczema and psoriasis. Many herbalists declared it helpful in reducing the healing time and the pain associated with genital herpes.
Liquorice is anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic, it stimulates hormone production in the adrenals and reduces the breakdown of steroids by the liver and kidneys, thereby rendering it suitable in the treatment of Addison’s disease. It induces interferon – the body’s natural anti-viral compounds – which promotes anti-viral activity. Recent research has focused on the plant’s ability to inhibit HIV and AIDs – it appears to do this by stimulating the Thymus gland to increase T cell ratios and reducing the formation of free radicals, which are a major factor in the cause of ill health.
Liquorice also displays significant anti-microbial activity in the treatment of Candida albicans and Trichomonas; it has been long been recognised as an aid to pre-menstrual syndrome because of its oestrogenic activity. In eastern countries it is recommended to restore the female libido.
It has been used for centuries to treat the common cold. Liquorice may be taken as a tea or by simply chewing the root.
Finally a word of caution, liquorice should not be taken by those suffering from hypertension, taking digitalis, or pregnant.