The botanical name of licorice is Glycyrrhiza glabra and means “sweet root”. In fact, it is from the root system of the plant that the classic “stick” is obtained to be kept in the mouth and sucked to obtain all its aromatic sweetness. Not only that, an extract is also obtained which, worked and solidified, is transformed into tasty black flakes or candies . Its medicinal and thirst-quenching properties are known since antiquity.
The Licorice has many anti-inflammatory and expectorant . As well, its roots help fight digestive disorders (dyspepsia), inflammations of the respiratory system and skin diseases . It also has laxative properties and it helps those with low blood pressure, while those with high blood pressure must avoid it.
A resource of beneficial properties, but to be used very carefully because of the side effects that are quite significant in case of abuse. Licorice, in whatever form it is found, should be taken occasionally, avoiding exceeding the recommended average dosage of 2mg / kg per day of glycyrrhizin .
However, during pregnancy and breastfeeding , licorice must be eliminated. In fact, the transfer of hormonal substances to the fetus could occur in gestation since the hypertensive effect of glycyrrhizin would inhibit the normal filter function performed by the placenta.
Licorice: what it is
The plant from which licorice is obtained is a legume belonging to the Fabacee family. The botanical species is known by the name Glycyrrhiza glabra L. This is the best known species of the genus Glycyrrhiza , but it is not the only one. In fact, there are a total of twenty species.
Thirst quenching properties
In Asia Minor, the people of the Assyrians already over 2600 years ago had tied their customs and habits to licorice. In fact, the plant was used for medicinal purposes and for its extraordinary thirst-quenching properties . The Assyrians were able to take long walks in the desert under the heat of the sun without suffering from thirst simply by consuming licorice with goat cheese or combined with mare’s milk during long marches.
Even today, licorice intake is also a popular strategy for quenching thirst during Ramadan.
Where it grows
It is a perennial herb that grows spontaneously in sandy places from the plain up to 1000 meters above sea level. It prefers rich, clayey, fatty, deep and humid soils, which are found in the valleys by the rivers. Its diffusion is very wide and affects almost all European countries , but especially the southern ones with a temperate climate, although the plant tolerates frost well. It is found in some African countries bordering the Mediterranean (Algeria, Egypt, Libya) and in the Middle East (Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria).
Many are also the Asian countries where the licorice plant grows , from Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, to India and China passing through Afghanistan, Iran, l Iraq, Mongolia, Pakistan and Asian Russia.
Finally, some species also affect Australia and the Maldives. Instead, in the United States of America, it is found only in the southwest part, namely Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Utah.
Glycyrrhiza glabra is the most common species.
It has a bushy bearing, with erect stems that reach a height of about one meter. They are simple and flexible stems characterized by evident longitudinal streaks and provided with short but numerous lateral branches. These bear leaves impartipinnate in the number from 9 to 15, of intense green color, of an elongated oval or elliptical shape, with a rounded base and a slightly pointed tip. The leaves are sticky and sticky to the touch due to a substance secreted by glands arranged on the lower leaf page.
The inflorescences appear from June to July , are blue-lilac or tending towards purple and form racemes that start from the axil of the leaves also composed of about thirty flowers.
As is characteristic of legumes , the plant develops a fruit composed of a leathery, hairless pod or with a few bristles, inside which the seeds are located. The legume is reddish brown in color and contains 2 to 6 dark bean-shaped seeds, but smaller.
The part of the plant that interests us most is not the aerial one, but the root system , from which the licorice is extracted.
In fact, the plant develops a large central woody rhizome from which some secondary roots are formed, usually no more than five which in turn generate numerous stolons, a sort of creeping ramifications that stretch by sliding on the ground, or just below the ground, until to reach 6-8 meters in length after 3 or 4 years of age.
But, it is precisely the roots and stolons of adult plants that constitute the woody part that is collected, dried and processed for the extraction of licorice. They appear as long branches with a dark brown bark and a fibrous yellow interior with a sweet and aromatic taste.
Licorice roots are taken from the plant in the fall . Then, after having been well cleaned of small secondary roots and subjected to careful washing, they are cut into homogeneous pieces and sent for drying. A process carried out in open, ventilated and sunny places or in ovens and carried out slowly at a controlled temperature not exceeding 40 ° C. At the end, the “licorice sticks” are stored in special dry rooms.
The sticks can also be chewed naturally . However, the more consistent part is sent to a subsequent juice extraction phase. The operation is carried out hot by dissolving in boiling water.
The juice thus obtained is filtered from the woody residues of the root and then clarified and concentrated through boiling with a progressive evaporation of the water. The dense concentrate, cooling down, solidifies into a dense, shiny and fragrant substance which is finally broken by special machinery according to the desired shapes and sizes.
The species Glycyrrhiza glabra is native to the central eastern Mediterranean area and Asia minor.
The root has been known since ancient times . It is ascertained that it is widely spoken in the most ancient Chinese herbarium, the Pen Ts’ao Ching, whose writing would be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, a legendary work of Emperor Shennong (“God-Peasant”), mythological figure and father of Chinese agriculture. The plant was already then an important healing plant source.
Chinese doctors called her “Gan Cao” and prescribed her against cough, liver disease and food poisoning.
In Japan, in Shosoin, the imperial deposit in Nara, the oldest specimen of licorice, introduced from China in the mid-eighth century, is preserved.
As in Asia, even on the Mediterranean side, licorice was known and used for its medicinal properties . It is reported that a bundle of roots was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun between the rich set reserved for the passing of the pharaoh to the “other world”, dated 1323 BC
In ancient Greece, the famous doctor Hippocrates of Kos (n. 460 BC) has left in his many research works, indications on licorice as an excellent solution to combat cough and pharyngitis. Even Theophrastus of Eresus, philosopher and botanist, heir of the Aristotelian school, who lived at the end of the fourth century BC, recommended its use to heal asthma and ulcers.
He called it ” Scythian root “, due to the well-known custom of the Asian nomadic population. Instead, Galen of Pergamum (n. 129 AD) recommended it for its effectiveness in wound healing
Licorice: nutritional values
Chemical analysis of the root extract has a preponderance of starches and carbohydrates (D-glucose and sucrose) with a modest amount of fat and protein.
In particular, the composition is interesting for the high content of minerals and very precious compounds, ie coumarins, triterpene saponins, sterols and flavonoids. Especially flavanones, chalcones, isoflavones and isoflavonols, which are all substances with antioxidant activity and some of them responsible for the yellow color of the root .
In particular, the substance that most characterizes licorice is the presence of glycyrrhizin also known as glycyrrhizic acid.
In fact, the metabolites of glycyrrhizin, glycyrrhetinic acid and glabridin (an isoflavone, polyphenolic compound) can be considered the most representative “active principles” of the root, such as those of the “drugs” derived, effective in the therapy of various pathologies.
Licorice: health benefits
Several studies have observed numerous beneficial effects of licorice, some already known because they have been handed down from a thousand-year-old folk medicine , others less known but with strong pharmaceutical properties . Licorice compounds have demonstrated anti-inflammatory, antiviral, hepatoprotective, antiulcerose properties.
Cough, colds and intestinal problems
Flavonoids have the ability to inhibit inflammation in the respiratory tract airways, revealing excellent calming agents of asthmatic phenomena, with expectorant and secretolytic action.
In addition, licorice flavonoids have a beneficial effect on inflammatory bowel disorders.
Preventive action against functional dyspepsia and ulcer
The general symptoms of functional dyspepsia include upper abdominal fullness, epigastric pain, belching, swelling, early satiety, nausea, vomiting, regurgitation, heartburn and loss of appetite.
In 2011, a study was conducted to evaluate the efficacy of a glycyrrhiza glabra extract in patients with functional dyspepsia. The extract showed a significant reduction in symptoms. Its effectiveness has led to a marked improvement in the quality of life of the subjects treated, showing that it is a safe and well tolerated product for all patients.
Licorice has also been reported to improve gastric mucus secretion and anti-ulcer healing activity.
A study of glabridin and glabrene (flavonoids present in the licorice root) revealed the anti-Helicobacter pylori activity and the licorice extract also showed a significant beneficial effect on all forms of infection by this bacterium. In another study, licorice, deprived of glycyrrhizin, proved effective in relieving the ulcer of the gastric mucosa.
This curative effect has been known for some time, but clinical studies on patients conducted since the 70s have confirmed the beneficial potential of licorice in the treatment of ulcerative conditions and gastrointestinal disorders , such as peptic ulcer, canker sores , inflammatory bowel disease and so on. Street.
Licorice to fight stress
Thanks to the blood sugar regulation function, licorice is attributed an anti-stress action that would also favor a better predisposition to sleep.
The effects of licorice on pressure
Licorice makes the pressure rise and therefore it is recommended for those suffering from low blood pressure, however, those suffering from high blood pressure must moderate consumption.
The main active constituent of it is glycyrrhizin, which is subsequently converted into the intestine.
Despite many health benefits, glycyrrhizin derivatives inhibit an enzyme that oxidizes cortisol into cortisone. This generates high levels of cortisol in the blood and induces a mild form of apparent mineralocorticoid excess in the kidney, and increases systemic vascular resistance.
But, this phenomenon protracted over time and related to excessive consumption of licorice creates a state of hypernatremia (electrolyte disturbance characterized by a high concentration of sodium in the blood) and deficiency of potassium in the blood with a consequent increase in the volume of liquids, which can cause serious life-threatening complications, especially in patients already suffering from cardiovascular disease.
Furthermore, recent studies have correlated its intake and blood pressure revealing statistically significant increases in both systolic pressure (5.45 mmHg) and diastolic pressure (3.19 / 1.74 mmHg).
Benefits in menopause to decrease hot flashes
Licorice is one of the plants that are traditionally used to relieve menopausal symptoms.
Scientific research has gone into depth to evaluate the effects of It on the symptoms of the menostasis condition . Furthermore, it has been observed that licorice does not behave very differently from the effect of hormones, reducing the typical hot flashes of the climacteric in number and duration . It would be particularly effective in reducing its duration.
Licorice: contraindications and side effects
As mentioned, attention must be paid to the dosage of licorice that is taken in order not to incur possible side effects. In general, both children and people over 55 years of age should not take higher doses than recommended and for prolonged periods of time.
In fact, an excess of glycyrrhizin could create an imbalance in the concentration of mineral salts in the blood and could cause excessive water retention with a consequent temporary increase in blood pressure.
Those with hypertension problems can take it only occasionally, within the recommended doses.
In addition, licorice is not recommended for those suffering from hypokalaemia and hypernatremia, as well as those with severe kidney failure problems.
Licorice in pregnancy
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, licorice is not recommended.
In fact, in gestation, the passage of hormonal substances to the fetus could occur because the hypertensive effect of glycyrrhizin would inhibit the normal filter function performed by the placenta.
On the other hand, during breastfeeding, the excess of cortisol in the blood, caused by the inhibition of the enzyme responsible for its transformation into cortisone, could cause hypertension , mineral imbalance and water retention both to the mother and to the newborn, through a passage of substances in milk.
Licorice and medicines
With the intake of some medicines, licorice should be absolutely avoided. In particular, it interferes with certain categories of anticoagulants , with cardiokinetic or cardiotonic drugs, extracted from digitalis flowers, digitalis drugs, for example digoxin.
In addition, diuretics , medicines for the control of hypertension, drugs that are metabolized by the liver, estrogens and corticosteroids may be ineffective .
In any case, it is always advisable to seek the advice of your doctor.
How to consume licorice
Sucking dried licorice roots , the so-called “sticks”, is still in use today. The product is on sale in many market stalls and fairs, also with the ancient popular name of “regolizia”. But the large volumes makes them its extract, entering the composition of the products of the confectionery and liquor industry, as well as coloring, sweetening or flavoring agent of various products, both food and non-food, such as:
- herbal teas
- pharmacological products.
Some confectionery industries have unveiled the basic ingredients of licorice candies , which are:
- licorice extract
- thickener (typically starch / flour)
- gum arabic, jelly (or a combination of these two ingredients).
Additional ingredients are other flavors such as:
- beeswax (to polish the surface)
- ammonium chloride and molasses, which gives licorice its characteristic black color.
Licorice: how to use
Licorice root to fight colds
5 to 15 grams per day, 3 times / day. To be taken after each meal in powder, infusion or decoction (from 2 to 5 g in 150 ml of water).
Licorice herbal tea to digest and deflate the belly
- 2 liters of water
- ½ stick of licorice
- 2 tablespoons of organic dry lemongrass.
- Put the water to boil
- Add the licorice and dried lemongrass
- Leave to brew for 10 minutes
- Strain and pour into a water jug.
Licorice powder as a natural ingredient in beauty
As a cosmetic ingredient, licorice powder is recognized for its properties:
- lightening (gives brightness to the skin)
- antioxidants: excellent as anti-wrinkle treatment.
It is suitable for skins:
- with eczema and psoriasis
Licorice powder is an effective natural remedy for fighting halitosis.
In fact, it gives a fresh and fragrant breath. With your toothbrush, mix half a teaspoon of powder with your usual toothpaste in a bowl and brush your teeth carefully. Rinse.
Use in the kitchen
Licorice is not an easy product to use in the kitchen . There are very few dishes that offer the use of this flavoring among the ingredients. Obviously, the use that lends itself most among all is aimed at the preparation of desserts. Also, the use of licorice in both industrial and artisan liquor is widespread.
1 – Calf fillets with onion and licorice
Ingredients for 4 people
- 4 veal fillets of approx. (100 g each)
- 2 red onions of Tropea PGI
- 7 celery ribs
- 1 stick of Licorice
- 1 clove of garlic
- 50 g of butter
- EVO oil to taste
- Salt to taste
- pepper as needed
Wash the celery ribs, remove the filaments that line them and cut each into three pieces, with oblique cuts.
Heat a drizzle of oil in a pan and brown the celery briefly. Wet with a few spoons of water, salt, put on the lid and cook for a few minutes, keeping the celery.
Slice the red onions and brown lightly in a pan with 30 g of butter. Wet them with a few tablespoons of water, put on the lid and stew them on a low heat until they are dark.
In a pan, heat the remaining butter with a drizzle of oil, the whole garlic clove and the split licorice stick (vertically) in four parts.
Brown the fillets on both sides, cook for a few minutes, keeping them pink inside and season with salt and pepper.
Spread the stewed onions in the center of the plates, arrange the fillets on top and the celery pieces next to them. As soon as the bottom is well tied, pour it over the fillets and garnish with the licorice pieces.
2 – Licorice ice cream
- 250 ml of fresh cream
- 200 ml of milk
- 40/50 g of licorice powder
- 60 g of sugar.
Pour the milk and sugar into a saucepan and add the licorice powder.
Turn on the stove over low heat and turn until the sugar and licorice have completely dissolved. As soon as they are melted, turn off and cool by pouring the mixture into a container. Let it rest.
Add the cream and mix vigorously, activate the ice cream maker and pour the mixture, leaving it to stir for half an hour.