Licorice comes from a berry-like plant of the same name found in Asia. The species Glycyrrhiza has been a source of therapeutic medicines for ages. Licorice is also the traditional name for Glycyrrhiza glabra, a perennial flowering plant of the mint family, in the seed of which a tasteful, aromatic flavor can sometimes be extracted. From an ancient Greek word, Glycyrrhizae, the name licorice comes from the Greek word glycyrrhizin, meaning sweet. Both the root and the flowering branches of licorice bear this fruit’s distinctive flavor.
Licorice has been used traditionally as a sweetener to help boost energy and reduce fatigue. It was also thought to treat such medical problems as influenza, colitis, blood pressure, nausea, sore throat, toothache, neuralgia (newly developed numbness in the jaw), rheumatism, gonorrhea, cough, asthma, bronchitis, heartburn, liver disease, dyspepsia, and tooth decay. It may even help to increase the production of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter. However, there is no evidence that licorice root does any of these things.
Taking licorice extract can be very helpful if you have a problem with high blood pressure. However, there is much controversy concerning whether taking licorice extract is actually helpful. Most reliable reviews of herbal remedies suggest that licorice may actually cause high blood pressure to increase. The evidence is not conclusive, but many scientists feel that more research is needed. If you have high blood pressure, and wish to try a natural remedy, then it would probably be best to talk with your doctor before starting to take licorice extract.
Many researchers believe that black licorice extract can actually lower high blood pressure by relaxing the muscles of the heart. In addition, black licorice appears to lower the levels of “bad” cholesterol in the body. It seems to do this by reducing the amounts of “bad” cholesterol and “good” cholesterol in the blood. Also, licorice seems to help lower triglyceride levels, which may help prevent heart attacks or stroke. The combination of these two benefits, reduced blood pressure, and lowered triglycerides, make black licorice another great natural remedy for high blood pressure.
There are other possible uses for licorice extracts. One popular home remedy uses licorice root to treat diabetes. Some claim that it can help lower blood sugar. This effect is thought to be due to the presence of insulin in licorice, which serves as a kind of receptor for glucose. Others say that licorice’s glycyrrhizin, which causes the laxative effect, reduces insulin production. Either way, the effect is supposed to be a decrease in blood sugar levels that can help people with diabetes control their blood sugar.
Licorice also has high levels of potassium, making it useful for treating a range of urinary problems. Researchers believe that licorice, by working at blocking the entrance of urine into the urinary tract, helps reduce the symptoms of UTI. Interestingly, licorice also has the effect of relaxing the ureter, allowing increased urine flow. This effect makes licorice useful for treating both enlarged prostate and bladder, another common urinary problem.
The Glycyrrhizin in licorice extract may also have some benefit in treating diabetes. It appears to inhibit the production of insulin, which can partially reverse the effects of insulin in the body. Further studies are needed to confirm these findings.
Licorice may also help treat arthritis, as well as kidney disease, gallstone formation, cavities, headaches, insomnia, nervousness, and coughing. The glycyrrhizin found in licorice appears to reduce acetylcholine, which has been linked to a range of serious diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been used in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. The glycyrrhizin in licorice has been shown to relieve the symptoms of Crohn’s disease, and licorice root has been found to have positive effects on the stomach and digestive tract of patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Other studies show that it may be beneficial for treating ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that can cause serious damage to the colon.