The Lowdown On Licorice

by Joelle Applebe - Date: 2007-06-23 - Word Count: 577 Share This!

Most of us know licorice as a tasty treat. But true licorice, officially known as Glycyrrhiza glabra, is actually a European plant belonging to the pulse family called Leguminosae. When pounded or pressed, the root of the licorice plant manufactures the sweet substance it's famous for. Since ancient times, licorice root has been revered for its medicinal purposes. The root has been used as a laxative and trusted as a cure for coughs. Of course, licorice is also brewed for candy and for flavoring tobacco and other substances.

Licorice Plant

Licorice is a perennial plant with blue pea-shaped blossoms. It is primarily cultivated in the Middle East, although a subspecies of it, the wild licorice Glycyrrhiza lepidota, is native to North America. Currently, there are 14 known varieties of the licorice plant. Most types of licorice are found in several Asiatic regions, Southeast Europe, and Persia.

The licorice plant has long graceful stems and lightly spreading, pinnate leaves. From a distance, they display an almost feathery appearance because of their tiny leaflets which resemble those of the False Acacia. At night, the leaves hang down on each side of the midrib. The flowers are little, growing from the axils of the leaves. Licorice flowers are purplish in color and occasionally pale-blue, violet, or yellowish-white. At the peak of maturity, small pods are formed which somewhat resemble a partly grown peapod.

Health Advantages

The licorice plant has an extensive history in herbal medicine and folk healing. The legend of its uses is long and varied. In Ancient China, licorice was thought as one of the most important herbs in traditional medicine. It is used primarily as a demulcent for its soothing and coating effects in the digestive and urinary tracts. Additionally, Chinese folk healers used it to cure a whole array of conditions, including diabetes and tuberculosis.

In modern times, the licorice plant has been primarily used in connection with the treatment for coughs, sore throats and, of course, as flavoring. The word "licorice" is actually derived from the Greek word for "sweet root."

More up-to-date studies have shown that licorice contains compounds, called glycyrrhizin and flavonoids. Glyccyrrhizin, according to some studies, has anti-inflammatory properties and may have inhibiting actions that hinder the breakdown of cortisol, an important substance produced by the body.

Researchers believe that licorice can hold important anti-viral properties, although this is yet to be proven on humans. Flavonoids found in licorice can act as powerful antioxidants, protecting the liver and other vital organs. Digestive tract cells may also benefit from chalcones, which are also components of licorice closely related to flavonoids. Preliminary studies using licorice as a treatment have suggested that flavonoids can destroy the bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori, responsible for ulcers and other common stomach inflammations.

Liquiritin, an extract made from licorice, has been used as a treatment for melasma, a pigmentation disorder of the skin. According to a study conducted by medical researchers, 70 percent improvement is observed on melasma patients after a twice daily topical application of liquiritin cream for a duration of four weeks.

Buying Licorice

When buying licorice for health benefits, remember that there are two types available on the market. "Standard" licorice glycyrrhizin and is used to treat respiratory infections, herpes and chronic fatigue syndrome. The other type, called "de-glycyrrhizinated" licorice, is used to relieve ulcers and other conditions in the digestive tract.

Licorice can be purchased in tablets or in capsule form. If you need to treat canker sores, you can also find de-glycyrrhizinated licorice in powder form.

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Writer Joelle Applebe is a regular columnist for numerous popular Internet sites, on health products and family health issues.Feel free to grab a unique version of this article from the Uber licorice article directory

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