Licorice Extract Powder European licorice or Glycyrrhiza glabra is a traditional medicinal plant that has been used for thousands of years. The English name licorice is derived from ‘liquiritia’, a corruption of its ancient name Glycyrrhiza, which now serves as the scientific name of the plant’s genus whose name is derived from the Greek: ‘glukos’ meaning sweet and ‘riza’ meaning root. The Greek philosopher Theophrastus chronicled licorice root as having a sweet fl avor, and noted it as useful for “asthma, dry cough and all diseases of the lungs”. Though native to Sicily, cultivation of licorice spread throughout Europe and its popularity has endured the ages. In 1305, Edward the First of England placed a tax on licorice imports to finance the repair of the London Bridge. It has also been said that Napoleon Bonaparte was such a fan of licorice that he chewed enough of the root to turn his teeth black. Although the plant grows small blue flowers and green leaves, it is the brown root of the plant that is most commonly used. The roots are either sold dry, or processed into sticks that are approximately 1 inch in diameter and 6 or 7 inches long. They can be chewed to impart the sweet flavor. Licorice root itself has a very sweet, musty flavor, rather than the ‘anise’ flavor we have come to associate with licorice. Licorice root bark typically contains glycyrrhizin which is a potassium or calcium salt of glycyrrhizinic acid. Glycyrrhizin (Glycyrrhizinic acid) is an extremely sweet glycoside that foams in water. It is said to be 50 to 200 times sweeter than sugar, hence the sweet taste associated with licorice root. Glycyrrhizinic acid is a glycoside of a pentacyclic triterpene carboxylic acid, and it functions as a whitener, which may gently lighten the skin. As a cosmeceutical, licorice also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent, which can help sooth irritated inflamed epithelium. Frequently added to cleansers, toners, clarifiers and serums, licorice extract is soluble in alcohol and it may be a useful active ingredient for alcohol-based systems
Licorice Root History
Licorice is a member of the legume family, and while there are species that grow in the U.S., Glycyrrhiza glabra is primarily native to Europe and Asia. Also, you might see “Chinese licorice” listed on products. In that case, it’s likely Glycyrrhiza uralensis, the second variety.
Licorice root benefits are primarily the same between the two varieties, according to the Journal of Advanced Research. (1) However, it’s worth noting that glabra is typically the variety referred to when discussing licorice root.
Glycyrrhiza’s name reflects its most popularly known claim to fame: “sweet root.” (2) With an extract that can be 30 to 50 times sweeter than sugar, we can see why our ancestors were inspired to turn it into candy! In Chinese medicine, anti-inflammatory licorice root has been used for centuries for many of the same uses that science has confirmed now — coughs and colds, gastrointestional issues, and female reproductive issues.
One interesting note about the way licorice has been used in Chinese medicine is that it was used as a “guide drug.” Licorice root was used in tandem with other herbs and remedies to enhance their effects and essentially guide the other herbs to where they would be most beneficial. In 2013, this use was observed and reviewed by the Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. (3) This ancient purpose, along with other licorice root benefits, no doubt contributed to licorice root being the most used herb in Chinese medicine! (4)
Europeans didn’t ignore the benefits of licorice as supplement, either. Licorice root has documented uses from antiquity, from ancient Greece and Rome to the Middle Ages and beyond. (5) By the 20th century, manufacturing allowed the root to be stripped for pharmaceutical uses and then extracted for candy sweetener. (6)
Now, that familiarly strong licorice flavor is usually replicated by the similarly flavored anise seed (a common biblical herb), but you can still get genuine licorice candy — usually “black licorice” to distinguish it from the red imitation candy.
The medicinal strength and benefits of licorice root are prominent enough that the FDA issued a notice for consumers to be aware that black licorice is more than just a sweet treat. (7) Even when the root extract is used just to sweeten, it can’t be ignored as a potent compound. And while the root is the primary portion used for supplements and remedies, the leaves have been evaluated for their antimicrobial benefits, as well. In an Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research study, the leaves tested well against bacteria and thus may work as a staph and candida cure. (8)