Native to the Mediterranean Basin, Glycyrrhiza glabra is a perennial shrub that is the source of licorice, which is specifically derived from the plant’s roots. Herbalists and folk medicine practitioners have long used the plant and its roots to treat mild gastrointestinal and respiratory ailments. Research studies have confirmed some of these benefits and have also indicated that the plant may have additional medicinal properties.
The effectiveness of G. glabra as a treatment for gastrointestinal discomfort was confirmed by a study presented in August 2012 to the International Conference on Chemical, Biological and Medical Sciences in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Gastric ulcers, one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders, can be traced to a wide array of causes, including oxidative stress, infection with the Helicobacter pylori bacteria, elevated secretion of digestive acids and a weakening in the stomach’s mucosal lining. In their presentation to the conference, Indian researchers confirmed that natural compounds in the plant were strong inhibitors of both elevated gastric acid secretion and H. pylori infection. They said their findings indicate that G. glabra extracts could provide an inexpensive means of protection against gastric ulcers.
There is further evidence confirming the effectiveness of G. glabra extracts in reducing the coughing that accompanies respiratory illnesses. An animal study showed that ethanol extracts from the plant reduced coughing by more than 35 percent within 60 minutes of administration. Publishing their findings in a 2012 issue of “International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research,” researchers said the plant’s anti-coughing properties were comparable to that of codeine sulfate, a widely used cough medicine.
To spread, cancer cells need a source of blood supply. One way to fight cancer is by inhibiting angiogenesis, the process through which new blood vessels are created to support the spread of malignant cells. Indian researchers in 2012 reported that extracts from G. glabra roots inhibited two common modes of angiogenesis in animal and in-vitro models. In the July 2012 issue of “International Organization of Scientific Research Journal of Pharmacy,” researchers said the plant extract shows promise as a potential supplementary source for cancer therapy.
Oral bacteria are responsible for cavities and a variety of other dental and endodontic disorders. Iranian researchers reported in 2012 that an extract of G. glabra showed, in vitro, strong antibacterial activity against six strains of oral bacteria commonly associated with tooth decay and endodontic infections.
A Note of Caution
As with many beneficial substances, too much Glycyrrhiza glabra or licorice can have adverse effects, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The plant and its byproduct contain a natural compound called glycyrrhizin or glycyrrhizic acid. If consumed in large quantities, the glycyrrhizin can lead to increased salt and water retention, elevated blood pressure and low potassium levels, which can cause cardiac problems. Licorice and other G. glabra products are available with glycyrrhizin removed; such products are designated DGL for deglycyrrhizinated licorice. Keep in mind that the red licorice commonly found in candy stores does not usually contain G. glabra components.
- MedlinePlus: Licorice
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Herbs at a Glance: Licorice Root
- International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research: Study of Antitussive Potential of Glycyrrhiza glabra and Adhatoda vasica Using a Cough Model Induced by Sulphur Dioxide in Mice
- International Organization of Scientific Research Journal of Pharmacy: MTA1-Induced Angiogenesis, Migration and Tumor Growth Is Inhibited by Glycyrrhiza glabra
- Avicenna Journal of Phytomedicine: Antibacterial Activity of Glycyrrhiza glabra Against Oral Pathogens: An In Vitro Study
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images