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Licorice Root

There are 30 species of licorice root plants used around the world, but 3 prize roots take the cake: Glycyrrhiza glabra L., Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch and Glycyrrhiza Inflata. Licorice comes from the Glycyrrhiza glabara plant, native to the Mediterranean, Iraq, Iran, Russia and Turkey. Its recorded use goes as far back as the Egyptians and ancient Chinese who drank it as a tea. Licorice is literally the grandfather of all herbs. In Chinese medicine, people believed drinking licorice root was the cure for any possible ailments. Licorice use in the West has all but disappeared until recently.   

The Scam: Real licorice root isn’t on the ingredient label of most of the licorice you can buy in stores (Even the black licorice that everyone thinks is real!). For years, companies in the US have been flavoring their “licorice” with concentrated anise instead of using real Glycyrrhiza, removing all the potential health benefits from the snack. Good news -- real licorice is having a resurgence in the US and we’re here to tell you if the hype is real.

Internal Benefits

When we say the Egyptians and Chinese have been using licorice the way we use aspirin, we really meant it. Licorice root is rich in precursors to flavonoids. There are 6,000 different flavonoids (plant chemicals) and they have an impressive lineup of benefits. If you’ve ever seen a health claim that starts with “anti-” I bet flavonoids fall into that category. Because of flavonoids licorice root is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer, antimicrobial, antiviral, antiallergic, antidiabetic and more.

How does it work?

The chemicals contained in licorice are thought to decrease swelling, thin out mucus secretions, decrease cough, and increase the chemicals in our body that heal ulcers.

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Skin care benefits

Licorice is wonderfully antibacterial and can be used as an anti-inflammatory and/or to treat acne. It soothes and hydrates as a result of high concentration of antioxidants. Can be used as natural sun protection when used frequently and in high quantities. Sometimes it’s used to help treat dark spots caused by sun damage.

So is it real or just hype?

Going deep into the chemical composition of licorice root, nearly 300 different flavonoids (unique compounds in plants thought to be responsible for their health benefits) have been identified. Each one of these flavonoids does something else, which is why there are so many potential benefits in licorice root. The main compound responsible for the antiviral and anti-inflammatory benefits of licorice root are a compound called glycyrrhizin.

Risks

There are a lot of potential risks to taking concentrated amounts of licorice root for an extended period of time. Topically applied to the skin, there aren’t many reported issues.

Worth it?

Probably can’t hurt to try on your skin, but be careful with the amount you take if you’re ingesting it. The active ingredient is glyzyrhizic acid, which can be dangerous and harmful in large quantities. With small amounts found in food, licorice is safe, but if you take it as a supplement over long period of time there are serious risks. Continued consumption can cause high blood pressure, low potassium levels, weakness, paralysis, and early pregnancy. There aren’t a ton of conclusive studies on the benefits, so it’s probably safe to keep this one out of your routine.

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