Dr Kendra Clifford ND
Today is National Licorice Day... no not the candy!
National licorice day was first established in 2004 by the National Confectioner's Association. They wanted to highlight the differences between true licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and the licorice flavouring used in many candies and sweets.
Glycyrrhiza glabra is a flowering plant that is actually a legume! It is part of the bean family Fabacea (in addition to alfalfa, lima beans, green beans, indigo, lentils, and many many more!). The word licorice stems from the Greek for "sweet root". In fact, licorice contains glycyrrhizin - a triterpenoid glycoside that is up to 50 times sweeter than sugar! You may not have realized this in the past as the taste profile is somewhat different than traditional sugar - it is less instant, getting sweeter gradually, but the sweet flavour lasts longer.
Licorice has been used medicinally for many years (it was even found in King Tut's tomb!). A licorice tea can be used as a demulcent (a substance that relieves irritation or inflammation by creating a film over a mucous membrane) for the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts:
Gastrointestinal: ulcers, heartburn, GERD
Respiratory: soothes cough, upper respiratory tract infections, asthma
It can also increase mucous production in the respiratory tract
Protects inflamed airways
Dissolves phlegm making it easier to expectorate (cough, or spit out)
As with any food, plant, medication or supplement licorice can cause side effects. As licorice mimics other mineralcorticoids (a class of steroid hormones that control our electrolyte and fluid balance) it can cause sodium reabsorption and potassium secretion resulting in:
High blood pressure (hypertension)
Shortness of breath
Many, many others
A number of these side effects are due to the glycyrrhizic acid/glycyrrhizin in licorice. Luckily we have supplements that have this removed = deglycyrrhized licorice or DGL. You may have heard of DGL with respect to its use to treat heartburn in those with high blood pressure.
So while you're eating licorice tomorrow (the candy - now often flavoured with anise) think about all the good things the licorice plant could do you for you!