Herbal Nerd Society Exclusive Article
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is an herb that is commonly found in tincture blends and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic formulas. Traditional Eastern herbalists and Western clinical herbalists have a dizzying array of reasons to add licorice in their formulas. Licorice has been studied for its effects on a multitude of body systems with impressive results. It has proven to hold anti-asthmatic, galactagogue, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-tussive, expectorant, hepaprotective, anti-inflammatory, anti-hyperglycemic properties. It is often added to formulas which support those struggling with autoimmune diseases, menopause, hypoglycemia, and allergies. No wonder TCM practitioners consider it an important herb for replenishing vital energy (qi). With all these actions going for it, you can see why a licorice formula would be popular.
Licorice does have a reputation over the last few decades as depleting potassium and triggering high blood pressure. Licorice is not an herb for patients with hypertension, hypokalemia or severe kidney insufficiency. The reports of patients needing medical assistance for overdosing on licorice are from people taking licorice as a food. Egypt, for example, has a history of the occasional citizen drinking 1 liter or more daily of a common licorice root drink during the fasting period of Ramadan which can trigger temporary health concerns. In April 2003, the Scientific Committee on Food, the upper limit for ingestion of glycyrrhizin (approximately the amount found in 60–70 g licorice) was set at 100 mg/day. This limit is difficult to exceed with herbal blends however many herbalists suggest adding potassium supplements or combining it with high potassium herbs such as dandelion or nettle. It is vital to decrease the intake of sodium in the diet to patients taking diuretics and/or laxatives.
Formulas can vary in ratios depending on the herbalist and the intent of the blend. TCM practitioners use licorice in many of their blends as it mixes well with and accentuates the actions of other herbs. For the most part, blends with licorice in them can range anywhere from 50% to 10%. Commonly, if it is being added to a formula as a “stabilizer”, it will be 10% of the blend. Licorice has a naturally sweet taste which is safe for diabetics to take. It blends well with cinnamon and other blood sugar stabilizing herbs. The flavor can overpower a tea blend which is why 10% is the standard rule to increase patient compliance. Tinctures or capsule blends will vary more often in ratios. This herb is often taken medicinally in smaller doses and for short periods of time in Western clinics.
Licorice is increasingly popular when used as a base for topical application to soothe outbreaks of herpes. This is either in a solid extract or heavy syrup. Usually, essential oils are stirred into the mixture and the sticky paste is applied directly to the sores for overnight treatment. Licorice solid extract or syrup is black so wearing this topical application during the day is embarrassing or uncomfortable for the patient. Another option is blending licorice with lemon balm (1:1) in a syrup form and taking it internally for the herpes or for shingles outbreaks.
Counter-indications: Licorice is counter-indicated for use with cardiac glycosides, cortisol, thiazide diuretics, stimulant laxatives. It is reported to potentiate the effect of these medications. As always, do not take potent herbs like licorice if you are pregnant without first consulting with a qualified healthcare practitioner.