Is Licorice Root Safe?

Licorice root is an amazing herb with adaptogenic properties, anti-viral properties, and an energetic profile of neutral/moist. It is a wonderful synergist in formulas and a welcome additional to respiratory support. I feel like I could talk about Licorice all day, it really is wonderful. 

It was even featured on House M.D. (because that is real doctor right?)....hold on though...before you scoff at that statement...TV shows shape peoples opinions on herbs and alternative lifestyles. When people are not exposed to herbal medicine in their home or community, what they hear on TV can stick in their minds...whether they realize it or not.

Now, in this particular episode the patient, plagued with a mystery ailment, failed to mention that she visited a doctor in China...who gave her Licorice. House, with his apparent knowledge in all things herbal, immediately deduced it was the licorice. She stopped taking it and voila, she was all better.

In all fairness...the information House presented wasn't wrong, per se. Licorice can cause dizziness and high blood pressure, but it take 10 grams a day for an extended period of time for that to happen.

In formulas containing Licorice, the amount is nowhere near this level. Licorice root is often added as an synergist...an herb that enhances the other herbs, helps them work better together, and helps your body process the herbs better. It is also used as a sweetener. This doesn't mean that it isn't in the formula as a main herb or even a secondary herb, but sometimes it can seem like so many formulas have Licorice root, and that is why.

For those with high blood pressure already, if you are concerned, there are other herbs that can be used as a substitute. That is one of the beautiful things about herbalism.

DEGLYCYRRHIZINATED LICORICE

This has kind of become go-to "safe" Licorice. DGL was created to get the benefits of Licorice without the HBP concerns. 

However....glycyrrhizin is one constituent that gives Licorice its anti-viral properties. It is part of Licorice...Licorice's botanical name IS Glycyrrhiza glabra.

When we start getting science involved in herbal medicine we lose part of the art. When we start getting science involved in herbalism, we run a risk of side effects because whole plant forms balance out strong constituents (Comfrey study anyone?!)

Even in APHA's Botanical Safety Handbook 2nd Ed., the were no case reports adverse effects reported when the dose was in the recommended allowance for the recommended treatment period (less than 50g daily/less than 6 weeks...respectively).

There are other concerns with licorice, such as potassium depletion and/or sodium fluid retention but I direct you to the above paragraph for the APHA's findings.

Also...lets talk about "they" shall we?

Before you (or I) say something like "well, they say..." we should define who "they" are. In this case..."they" are the doctors who haven't actually studied herbal medicine. "They" are the scientists being paid to study individual constituents OR being paid to study herbs but lacking the knowledge of the art. "They" are well meaning family members concerned for your health, but just regurgitating what they heard from another "they" 

Now, for pregnant women, I don't recommend this herb, there have been some observed effects on fetuses for moms who heavily consumed licorice during their pregnancy. Thankfully, as mentioned above...there are plenty of wonderful options for using herbal medicine.

So, my point is...Licorice isn't as dangerous as it is made to seem. It is actually a really fantastic herb...it is just really powerful and needs to be used with respect. If you are concerned with a formula, find an herbalist to talk with. They can either assure you that it is fine...or help you find one that is PLUS you will walk away with some great knowledge to use in the future.

*This blog post was pulled over from our old blog on Patchouli Herbs as we combine the two.