What is licorice?

Licorice is a plant that grows in the Mediterranean region, Asia, and Africa. The licorice plant is a member of the pea family. The roots of the plant are used to make medicine.

Licorice is used for various digestive system problems including stomach ulcers, heartburn, colic, and ongoing inflammation of the lining of the stomach (chronic gastritis). It is also used for respiratory tract problems including cough, bronchitis, and sore throat. Other uses include diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, lupus, eczema, and hepatitis.

Some people apply licorice directly to the skin for rash and other skin problems.

In foods and beverages, licorice flavoring is derived from the root of the plant Glycyrrhiza glabra. Licorice extract is used as a sweetener in some foods.

In manufacturing, licorice is used as a flavor in tobacco, candy, baked goods, ice cream, and gelatin desserts. It is also used in some medicines and cosmetics.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Don’t take licorice by mouth if you are pregnant, unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Don’t apply licorice to the skin if you are pregnant. It’s best to avoid using licorice during breast-feeding.

Heart disease: Licorice can make heart disease worse. If you have heart disease, don’t use licorice.

High blood pressure: Licorice can raise blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, don’t use licorice.

Kidney problems: Licorice can worsen kidney problems and might cause fluid retention and potassium loss. If you have kidney problems, don’t use licorice.

Liver problems: Licorice can make liver problems worse. Don’t use licorice if you have liver problems.

Mechanism of Action

The main active ingredient in licorice is glycyrrhizin. Glycyrrhizin can be converted to glycyrrhetinic acid in the body. These compounds have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immune-stimulating effects. They also seem to increase the production of mucus, which might explain why licorice is used for respiratory tract problems.


The appropriate dose of licorice depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for licorice. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.

Side Effects

headache, high blood pressure, loss of potassium, abdominal pain and cramps, water retention, and changes in electrolyte levels. Use of licorice should be stopped gradually to avoid side effects.

Licorice is LIKELY SAFE when applied to the skin appropriately. However, it can cause some side effects such as skin irritation and swelling. Licorice root seems to be safe when taken in small amounts by mouth during pregnancy. But don’t take large amounts by mouth or apply licorice to the skin during pregnancy. It’s best to avoid using licorice if you are breast-feeding.


Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. Licorice can decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. Taking licorice along with some medications that are broken down by the liver might increase the effects and side effects of some medications. Before taking licorice, talk to your healthcare provider if you are taking any medications that are changed by the liver.

Some of these medications include amitriptyline (Elavil), clozapine (Clozaril), cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), fluvoxamine (Luvox), haloperidol (Haldol), imipramine (Tofranil), mexiletine (Mexitil), olanzapine (Zyprexa), propranolol (Inderal), tacrine (Cognex), theophylline, zileuton (Zyflo), and others.

Other Names

Glycyrrhiza glabra, Gan Zao, Glycyrrhiza, Liquorice Root, Radix Glycyrrhizae, Sweet Root.


Licorice enters the bloodstream quickly after being taken by mouth. The glycyrrhizin in licorice is metabolized to glycyrrhetinic acid, which is then excreted in urine.