More than a sweet treat, licorice root is traditionally used in herbal medicine for soothing digestion and supporting respiratory health.*
The classic herbal synergizer.
What are the Benefits of Licorice?
The benefits of licorice have been known for thousands of years among Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic practitioners to soothe digestive tissues and other mucous membranes.*
In Western Herbalism, licorice root is classified as a demulcent herb. A demulcent is a category of herbs known to soothe and moisturize tissues of the body.* Demulcent herbs contain soluble fiber polysaccharides, which are molecules (known as hydrocolloids) that are hydrating and water-absorbent. Licorice root’s demulcency, especially notable as a licorice root tea, is ideal for soothing delicate tissues within the digestive tract and throat.*
Even though licorice root is an herbal remedy, individuals that have high blood pressure concerns should be mindful of the amount consumed and consult with their healthcare practitioner prior to use.
When most people think of licorice, the sweet and earthy flavored licorice candy comes to mind. Given that glycyrrhizin, one of the main active compounds in licorice, is among nature’s sweetest substances (50 times sweeter than sugar), it is no surprise how this plant became a popular ingredient in candy. Although licorice candy can sometimes be a polarizing flavor, it is often included in herbal formulas to harmoniously balance taste and medicinal benefits.
Folklore & Historical Use of Licorice
In our herbal teas, we formulate with the species, Glycyrrhiza glabra - the name stemming from the Greek glukurrhiza, or “sweet root.” It has a similar name in Sanskrit, “sweet stalk,” and in Chinese, “sweet herb,” attesting to its long history of cultivation and use around the world.
Outside of ancient China and India, the therapeutic benefits of licorice were also documented in The Code of Hammurabi, written about 3,800 years ago by the 6th King of Babylon and later about 3,000 years ago by the ancient Egyptians, who created a tonic with it and packed it in funeral jars to carry into the afterlife. Famous generals from Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar to Napoleon Bonaparte carried licorice with them, and the ancient nomadic Scythians of the Central Asian steppes were said to survive without water for 12 days thanks to licorice—please note: do not try this at home!
This powerful root has carried on through 5,000 years of use and is now one of the most widely used medicinal plants in TCM and Ayurvedic medicine.
Botanical Description & Habitat
This native perennial grows in parts of Eastern, Central, and Western Asia and the Mediterranean region, growing especially well near riverbanks and in floodplains of dry grassland. Consisting of a stalk with pale lilac-colored flowers, pinnate leaves, a small oblong fruit pod, and an elaborate root system, the plant can reach up to seven feet in height.
Licorice is most commonly collected in the wild, as it takes five to six years before the roots are ready to harvest – a testament to the importance of protecting wild collection areas.
When To Use Licorice
To help soothe and move things along.
When the weather turns cold and dry.
When your voice needs to be heard.
The Business of Sustainable Plants
Our business is rooted in plants, and for us, it’s a business imperative that we care for the ecosystems where these plants live and thrive. We believe that everything is interconnected, which means supporting ecosystems and the farmers and collectors who harvest and gather our herbs. Finding opportunities to reduce or eliminate emissions at the source, we support organic and regenerative farming practices as well as voluntary certifications like Organic and FairWild. These ensure the absence of pesticides, herbicides, as well as the ongoing sustainability of wild collection, and the health and livelihoods of the collectors who forage. Josef Brinckmann, Traditional Medicinals’ Research Fellow, Medicinal Plants and Botanical Supply, asserts, “Everyone has a role to play in preserving biological diversity. One way of doing that is by equitably supporting the local people to serve as stewards of the land.”
It Starts with Organic
We choose to source organic because we believe in the positive impacts it has on environmental sustainability, biodiversity, and overall ecosystem health. Organic helps us increase transparency while prioritizing consumer well-being and farmer success, which is key to producing the high-quality herbs we source. In 2021, we procured 2.73 million pounds of certified organic herbs, over 99.7% of our total botanical herbs purchased. Volumes were down slightly from FY20 due to timing of inventories received.
The impact from organic farming creates a vital ecosystem through improved soil health, water quality, pollinator habitats, and biodiversity. Organic farms also have increased carbon sequestration potential through long-term carbon storage in the soil, helping to mitigate climate change.
One of the benefits of organic that we most value is farmer health. We care deeply about the people who produce our herbs, ensuring that they are not exposed to synthetic chemicals found in conventional agriculture.
We believe that everyone deserves a fair wage for hard work. That’s one of the reasons why we’re committed to fair trade. Traditional Medicinals® is a registered Fair Trade “brand holder”, “licensee” and “manufacturer,” and our products are certified by Fair Trade USA, an independent third-party certifier. We were an early adopter of Fair Trade, having launched our first fair trade tea product in 1998, just one year after Fairtrade International (FLO) was established. We continue to work closely with our network of producers to help them to implement fair trade standards and get certified.
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The effects of licorice are dose dependent. Consult your healthcare practitioner prior to use if you have low potassium levels; if you are taking diuretics, corticosteroids, cardiac glycosides such as digoxin, or potassium-depleting medications. Do not use this product if you are pregnant or breastfeeding unless directed otherwise by your healthcare practitioner. Do not use this product if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or impaired kidney or liver function. Not to be used for longer than 4 weeks without medical advice. Excessive use may lead to electrolyte imbalances (sodium retention and potassium loss), accompanied by high blood pressure and water retention. Not recommended for use with children under 12 years of age.
The information and other content in this article are designed to provide a general overview of the botany, cultural history, and traditional uses of this herb. It is not intended and should not be construed as health advice. Every person is unique and you should consult with your health care provider before using any herbal product or supplement.