Licorice root, also known as Gan Cao and Radix Glycyrrhizae, is one of well-known herbs primarily used as a harmonizer in Chinese herbal formulas. By contract, western clinical medicine uses it more as a moderator thanks to its anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and antacid effects. In fact, this herb has long been used as medicine in ancient China since 2,000 years ago, which was recorded in the oldest herbology classic of “Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic” and listed as one of the superior drugs there. In addition, it was highly regarded as “the Teacher of Emperors” in the kingdom of herbs by Tao Hongjing, a famous physician in the Southern Dynasties (420-589). However, the most pertinent review about licorice comes from Li Shizhen, the writer of “Compendium of Materia Medica”, in which he said:” Licorice herb, as the monarch drug in prescriptions, inhibits the toxicities from 72 minerals and 1,200 grass and trees. As a result, it is revered as the Emperor’s Teacher for the credit of reconciling the rest herbs.” So, is licorice root safe? What is licorice root good for? These are good questions, but apparently it needs to answer the following one in the first place.
What is licorice root?
Medicinally it means the roots and rhizomes of Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch., G.inflata Bat., and G.glabra L. In China it is mainly produced in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Gansu and other places. It is usually harvested during spring and autumn. Typically the one in autumn is preferred. After harvesting, remove its fibrous roots, dry it in the sun, and slice it thickly. And it is used raw or honey fried.
It is a perennial herb, 30 to 100cm high. Root is stout, cylindrical, sweet, and with red-brown or dark brown skin. Stems are erect, and with xylon base, which is covered with white short hairs and bristle-like glands. Leaves are odd pinnate, alternate, and with about 6cm petiole. Leaflets are 7 to 17, ovate-elliptic, 2 to 2.5cm long, 1 to 3cm wide, and with obtuse tip, rounded base, and surfaces covered with glands and short hairs. Raceme, densely flowered, grows from leaf axil in summer. Bell-shaped calyx is covered with short hairs and bristle-like glands. Legume, in the shape of bar and oblong, grows densely, and sometimes it looks like from falciform to ring, 6 to 9mm, , and densely covered with brown bristle-like glands. Seeds, 2 to 8, are disciform or slightly kidney-shaped.
Main chemical constituents of licorice root and rhizome are glycyrrhizin, which is the sylvite and calcium salt of glycyrrhizic acid. It also contains liquiritin, liquiritigenin, isoliquiritin, isoliquritigenin, neo-liquiritin, neoiso-liquiritin, and so on.
Licorice root benefits
This is not only one of the most common Chinese herbs, but also an indispensable one in many herbal formulas. This is simply because it is able to harmonize the efficacies of a variety of other herbs. However, the health benefits of licorice are far from that. Today, its ready-made products, including licorice root tea, chew sticks, extract, powder, supplement, are so popular. Western Pharmacology found that licorice has the anti-inflammatory and antiallergic functions.
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