The Incredible Ayurvedic Herb That Rejuvenates and Nourishes Inside Out
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a leguminous plant known for its remarkably flavorful roots and stolons, which are about 40-50 times sweeter than sugar. Historically used as a natural sweetener and food flavoring agent, licorice is often found today in commercial chewing gums, candies, and beverages, as well as in pharmaceutical drugs and lozenges. It also goes by the name Sweetwood, Yashtimadhu (honey-like wood), or Mulethi in some parts of the world.
One of the oldest medicinal plants known to humankind, licorice has been used for centuries in various healing traditions around the world. A sweet, soothing tea made from its roots is a popular home remedy for throat irritations, common colds, respiratory infections, digestive ailments, insomnia, fatigue, and various skin conditions.
Researchers have identified over 300 bioactive compounds known to have antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-diabetic effects in licorice roots.
A Long History of Healing
In Ayurvedic healing, licorice enjoys a special place of regard as a Rasayana—a special class of anti-aging herbs that promote longevity, nourish and rejuvenate all seven tissues, strengthen the body’s natural defenses, and replenish vital energies. It also features in the elite category of brain tonics used for mental and psychotic disorders.
Licorice has a sweet rasa (taste), cooling potency, and moisturizing qualities that help pacify aggravated vata and pitta doshas. In addition, it is traditionally known to help calm an overactive digestive fire, promote hormonal balance, facilitate the nervous system, support lung health, and improve your resilience to stress at all levels.
Licorice is also commonly used as a vitality tonic to recover faster from illnesses and fight symptoms of chronic fatigue, low motivation, and general debility.
Licorice Health Benefits and Ayurvedic Properties
Alleviates Respiratory Infections
Licorice is best known for its immune-boosting and respiratory benefits. Ayurvedic texts describe it as a natural demulcent and expectorant that moisturizes mucous membranes, soothes the upper respiratory tract, strengthens and nourishes lungs, eases congestions, and supports optimal breathing.
Licorice root extracts are commonly used in cough syrups and herbal formulations for alleviating symptoms of bronchitis, asthma, excessive coughing, common cold, sore throat, sinusitis, allergic rhinitis, and respiratory tract infections. Respiratory issues are considered manifestations of aggravated vata and kapha. Licorice balances vata dosha and expels excess kapha from the lungs.
Research shows that compounds found in licorice root may help the immune system fight infection-causing microbes and reduce inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. According to a 2021 study, glycyrrhizin found in licorice roots can bind with viral fusion proteins and disrupt viral uptake into host cells. It has also been found effective in treating severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Soothes Upset Stomach
Sipping sweet licorice tea is an age-old way to relieve digestive discomforts like hyperacidity, acid reflux, dyspepsia, bloating, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.
Ayurveda recognizes digestion as the key to perfect health and emotional well-being. The quality of your digestion depends on the strength of your digestive flame (agni), which can be understood as a form of metabolic energy that regulates processes like food breakdown, secretion of gastric juices, and nutrient assimilation.
A weak flame may result in incomplete digestion and accumulation of toxins over time, whereas an overactive flame can cause excess stomach acidity and nutrient loss. The cooling potency of licorice helps maintain optimal agni and promotes peaceful digestion.
In numerous clinical trials, licorice extracts have been reported to improve symptoms of chronic functional dyspepsia and gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD). Researchers have found that phytochemicals present in this herb can suppress gastrin production, which is a hormone responsible for secreting stomach acids. Increased gastrin production is a well-known side effect of antacids and heartburn medicines, which can lead to frequent digestive problems and ulcer formation. Licorice, on the other hand, is a relatively safer option.
Improves Gut Health
The gut health benefits of licorice are in no way limited to minor tummy troubles. It also works as an excellent prebiotic, enhances mucosal barrier function, soothes gut inflammation, and helps repair intestinal linings. Evidence suggests that flavonoids found in licorice roots can promote the growth of friendly gut bacteria, kill harmful germs and parasites, and restore microbiota balance. A healthy gut microbiome plays a crucial role in preventing metabolic disorders like obesity, type-2 diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular diseases.
In addition, licorice root is also known to control the growth of various opportunistic microbes that become problematic when you are recovering from an illness, including Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, Candida albicans, and Helicobacter pylori. In one study, combining licorice with antibiotic treatment successfully eradicated H. pylori bacteria, which causes peptic ulcers and is difficult to treat with conventional drugs alone.
Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) supplements have been shown to protect the digestive tract from damage and improve gastrointestinal conditions like gastric ulcers, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and IBS.
According to ayurvedic philosophy, your immunity, strength, vitality, endurance, energy levels, and emotional resilience are all dependent on the strength of your ojas, which is the vital fluid of life and the core essence of all body tissues.
Ojas is the primal energy reserve of the body and mind that comes from rich, sattvic foods and proper digestion. It gives strength to tissues, brings peace and joy, improves skin luster, and protects from external factors. Licorice is rich in prana (life energy) and has rejuvenating, calming, and deep nourishing nature that can help build this subtle form of Kapha and protect it from depletion and loss.
An Excellent Brain Tonic
Licorice is described as a Medhya Rasayana (rejuvenating for the brain) in Ayurveda, which is a unique category of four nootropic herbs that promote brain health and improve cognition, memory, intellect, and mental clarity.
Studies have shown that licorice improves blood circulation to the brain’s hippocampus region, protects brain cells from oxidative damage, and strengthens the nervous system. It is also a well-known adaptogen that helps manage chronic stress and adrenal fatigue.
Some animal studies have suggested that flavonoids found in licorice extracts can reduce inflammation and amyloid-beta plaques (a type of brain toxin) in the brain, which can help prevent age-related cognitive decline and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Natural Sleep Aid
Evidence suggests drinking licorice tea before bed can help decrease sleep onset time and improve sleep quality. Licorice contains a flavonoid called glabrol, which binds with GABA receptors in the brain, a chemical messenger that allows rest and relaxation.
In one study, taking licorice supplements before bed increased the duration of slow-wave sleep, which is considered the deepest stage of sleep and plays a key role in tissue healing and energy restoration.
Some animal studies have also suggested its hypnotic, antidepressant, mood-lifting, and anxiolytic effects. In a 2020 animal study, treatment with licorice restored the circadian rhythm of melatonin secretion, which is crucial for a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
Repairs and Rejuvenates the Skin
In addition to nourishing your skin and body from deep within, licorice also works as an excellent emollient and skin vitalizer. It has been used for centuries in homemade face packs to boost skin hydration, remove pigmentation spots, promote cell turnover, and improve wound healing.
When applied topically to the skin, its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties can soothe redness, itching, swelling, and pain from skin infections. Numerous studies have found topical treatment with licorice helpful in eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and allergic skin conditions. In a 2020 study, combining oral licorice supplements with conventional treatments significantly reduced the frequency and severity of eczema flare-ups.
Did you know that licorice has its own holiday? Each year, April 12 is celebrated around the world as Licorice Day!
Research shows that saponins found in licorice can help regulate sebum production, fight free radicals, and protect the skin from UV rays. It also inhibits an enzyme called tyrosinase, which stimulates melanin production and causes sun-induced dark spots. In one study, applying licorice-based ointment twice daily for two weeks significantly reduced UV-generated free radicals in the skin.
Licorice has been used for centuries in food and medicine for a wide range of therapeutic purposes. It is generally regarded as safe and well-tolerated by most people when used in moderation. However, long-term use of glycyrrhizin—which is the major active compound responsible for its sweet taste and powerful healing properties—may have undesirable effects on some people. It has been known to increase blood pressure and interact with certain medications.
For regular use as a herbal supplement or gut health support, deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) is considered a safer and more suitable option. It is a processed form of licorice that has the glycyrrhizin component removed. If you plan to take licorice in supplement form, consider speaking with your doctor about any possible drug interactions.
RECIPE: Licorice Root Tea
1 cup licorice root (cut and sifted)
1/2 cups cinnamon sticks (broken into chips)
1/2 cup dried orange peel
1/2 cup astragalus root (cut and sifted)
1/2 cup ashwagandha root (cut and sifted)
1/2 cup eleuthero root or Siberian Ginseng
1/2 cup dried chamomile flowers
2 tbsp dried cloves
For the Licorice Root Tea
1 tbsp licorice tea blend
1 cup water
For the Licorice Tea Blend:
- Add licorice root, cinnamon sticks, orange peels, astragalus root, ashwagandha root, elethero root and dried chamomile flowers in a large, dry glass jar.
- Mix all the ingredients with a wooden spoon and screw the lid back on tightly and screw store in a dry place.
For the Licorice Tea:
- Heat 1 cup of water in a kettle or saucepan over low heat, and bring to a boil.
- Add 1 tbsp. of the licorice tea blend to the boiling water and let the tea simmer on low for about 30-45 minutes.
- Strain and pour tea into a cup and serve immediately.
You can also prepare the tea by pouring hot water over the herbs, covering them for 15 minutes, and straining them. Serve in an insulated cup and enjoy it!