Adams Herbs

 

 

LICORICE
(Glycyrrhiza spp. esp glabra and uralensis)

Tastes like candy, looks like a stick... and one of our most powerful plant medicines.





OTHER NAMES: Sweetwood, Sweetroot, Gan Cao (Chinese), Yasthimadu (Sanskrit). Just for kicks, see this website for hundreds of more names, in 54 additional languages.  (Licorice is a popular plant...)
 
PARTS USED: Root and rhizome.

USED IN: Immmune Dragon Super Brew, JOY!

NOTES: Licorice has been used on three continents, for dozens of health conditions, for thousands of years.  Today, research reinforces tradition, and we can comfortably call Licorice one of our most versatile and powerful plant medicines.  Licorice is a broad-spectrum antiviral.  It's anti-inflammatory and liver-protective.  It helps heal ulcers along the GI tract.  It nourishes weakened adrenal glands.  It's a moistening expectorant.  And let's not forget: it's sweet and tasty as well

Licorice is also potentially dangerous.  A small amount of licorice -- a cup of tea, a few pieces of candy, 3-4 drops of tincture -- isn't going to hurt anybody.  But to get into the real therapeutic doses, the doses that flat-out work, and you need to be careful.  (Although just to be clear, almost every published case report of Licorice toxicity has resulted from someone going at the candy like they were Scooby Snacks.  Licorice as an herbal medicine is almost never so blantantly misused). 

Licorice is pseudoaldosteronic, which means that it mimics the adrenal hormone aldosterone.  And aldosterone raises blood pressure.  Unlike other hormones that raise blood pressure -- angiotensin, for example, or vasopressin -- does not cause the blood vessels to constrict, but instead works on the kidneys, causing them to retain sodium.  This raises blood pressure, but not immediately.  Even therapeutic doses of licorice usually won't create problems overnight...

Anyways, there are three ways around this problem:

  1. Use Licorice in cases of weakened adrenals with low blood pressure, where its "side effects" are entirely positive.
  2. Use Licorice together with something that offsets its blood pressure-raising effects
  3. Use an extract called de-glycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL), where the blood pressure-raising compound (glycyrrhizic acid) has been removed. 
Let's start with the DGL.  While DGL removes the dangers of licorice, it also removes most of the benefits.  Turns out, glycyrrhizin is also responsible for a lot of the good stuff licorice does.  It isn't completely useless, however.  DGL can still soothe irritated mucous membranes along the GI tract.  It will work just as well as whole licorice in ulcers, reflex, and generic heartburn.  And it's wonderful on canker sores, too.  (Just chew up a little DGL, and rub it up against the sore with your tongue.  Do this 4-5 times a day).  But, this bears repeating: de-glycyrrhizinated Licorice does not do anything else.  I occasionally see products where DGL has been added as a "safe Licorice."  That can only mean that the formulator is ignorant, and has no clinical experience.

Then there's the idea of using Licorice together with something that lowers blood pressure.  For example, you'll see some Chinese trials where glycyrrhizin is given intraveinously along with the amino acid glycine, which can relax blood vessel walls.    I am not a fan of this. Raising blood pressure by shifting electrolyte balance while simultaneously dropping it by relaxing vascular tone strikes me as somewhat unbalanced.  Like giving someone a headache by hitting them with a baseball bat, and then taking the headache away with an aspirin. 

Finally, there's using licorice in cases of weakened adrenals and low blood pressure, which is exactly how you ought to use licorice!   The ideal candidate for licorice here is exhausted, except for when they're adrenalized.  Perhaps they're drawn to caffeine.  If they stand up too quickly, they get dizzy for a moment.  Bonus points if there's chronic inflammation in the GI tract.  Licorice not only mimics aldosterone but also the hormone cortisol.  Cortisol a major adrenal stress hormone, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  (Cortisol reduces inflammation, for example).   By mimicking cortisol, Licorce (or more precisely, the glycyrrhizin in licorice), in a sense takes a load off the adrenals.  They need to produce less of their own cortisol.  And the cortisol they produces sticks around longer, since the glycyrrhizin in licorice acts like a decoy for the enzyme that breaks down endogenous cortisol.  The end result are adrenals that can do more with less, adrenals that get a chance to rest.  Given a few weeks, Licorice will reliably raise blood pressure and stabilize adrenal function.

(Here, I like to use 1/4 tsp of the solid extract twice daily.  I usually add around 2,000 mg pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), and an adaptogenic mixture suited to the individual).

So everything else that licorice does -- the expectoration, the antiviral activity. the liver protective stuff -- I just don't mess with it in someone with normal to high blood pressure.  Not that I wouldn't if I had to.  But I don't have to.  There's always another herb, or combination of herbs, that will do it better anyways.

How I do use Licorice on occasion is as a "harmonizer."  In Chinese medicine, Licorice can "harmonize" diverse ingredients in a formula.  I'm not really sure what that means, or if I believe in it.  But I like to throw it in at 1-2% when my formulas taste really, really nasty.  The sweet taste seems to smooth over the nastiness.  When we taste sweet, there's a subconscious response, I think, that says "this is good for us.  We should absorb it."

SAFETY: See notes.

DOSING: See notes.

 

 


 
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