“What?! Licorice is an actual natural item?!” I thought it was a candy concoction devised by Willy Wonka and his Oompa-Loompas or the maniacal food scientists at Twizzlers. Yes, my friends, licorice is a blue-colored plant grown primarily in the southern Mediterranean and Asia. Our early European ancestors knew of the health benefits of licorice. They would crush and ground it down and boil it to extract the juice, and then allow it to thicken and cool to the black sticks we think of today. Licorice used to have the cool moniker of “black sugar.” Today it is commonly inserted into candy, and medicines (e.g. throat lozenges, laxatives, and cough syrups). Its bittersweet flavoring is quite popular. In fact a large majority of tobacco products are laced with licorice to counteract the malodorous taste & smell of the cigarettes and because licorice is a natural bronchodilator (opens the bronchial tree).
Health Benefits of Licorice
Nevertheless, the health benefits of licorice abound. Here are just a few (those are bold are its signature uses):
- An expectorant, great for coughs & other respiratory issues
- Mild laxative
- Stimulates the kidneys
- Raises blood pressure (great when you are hypotensive)
- Prevents cavities
- Fights “bad” LDL cholesterol
- Thwarts gastric secretions (great for stomach ulcers.)
- Fights joint pain & arthritis
- Fights bacterial and viral infections
- Natural antidote for drug overdose
Now hopefully you won’t be needing it for the last one, but just know it is there.
The health benefits of licorice has been well-known in the Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine world for centuries. For example they use licorice to detoxify the body of poisons (e.g. what science now has identified as Salmonella poisoning as well as malaria).
General uses of licorice
The beauty of licorice is that it comes in a myriad of forms and may be applied versatilely.
- Eat licorice as a food. (Go with all-natural types like Gimbal’s Scottie Dogs.)
- Take in a pill form
- Apply licorice powder directly onto rashes and skins infections
- Drink as a tea or infusion
- Apply licorice oil to region of body with malady
- Apply licorice powder to treat cold sores and even genital herpes
A couple of caveats.
Licorice has a compound called glycyrrhizin in it. Glycyrrhizin in large doses may have the following effects:
- Lower testosterone & sperm count in men. This is controversial. Many experts adhere to this belief, but new literature is suggesting it isn’t true. (Check out this PubMed Article.)
- Cause water retention
- Exacerbate high blood pressure (so licorice is great when you are hypotensive; not so much when you are hypertensive.)
- Overstimulate the adrenal gland (responsible for making cortisol and adrenaline).
Lastly, black licorice is the natural licorice so when we at Naturopathic Earth encourage you to use it we are not encouraging you to ingest large amounts of Twizzlers or Red Vine. (Incidentally, red licorice is a complete ruse, for it does not contain any licorice whatsoever. Sadly even most candy black licorice has a very small amount of licorice today. It is mostly sugar and aniseed oil, which mimics the flavor.)
Seek out the natural black licorice and consume it daily. If for any other reason, chew on it to sweeten your breath (similar to anise or fennel). It is a nice natural alternative to aspartame & food-dye laden gum and mouthwash. (Read our article on aspartame and natural breath fresheners.)
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A. Gregory Luna
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