Licorice (British English) or licorice (American English) or Mulethi (Hindi) is a medicinal herb which is used in various clinical conditions since ancient times. The underground stems and roots are used for medicinal purpose. Licorice has an antioxidant antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and hepatoprotective properties.
Licorice is useful in cough, sore throat, bronchitis, sexual weakness, skin problems, jaundice, hoarseness, Vata Dosha, ulcers, etc. It has demulcent and expectorant properties. Traditionally Mulethi is used to get relief from digestive symptoms such as burning sensation and dyspepsia, etc. It is also given in case of catarrhs of the respiratory tract, cold, cough, sore throat.
As it reduces stomach acid secretion, it shows beneficial effects in acidity, indigestion and ulcer prevention. It has cholesterol lowering and the liver protecting activities. It boosts immunity, reduces inflammation and heals the irritations. Licorice has a mild estrogenic effect and helps to reduce the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), such as irritability, bloating and breast tenderness.
Licorice is not suitable for everyone. It may cause some serious side-effects in certain conditions. It is contraindicated in pregnancy and breastfeeding. Please read on to know more about this herb.
General Information of Liquorice (Mulethi)
Licorice is a perennial long duration undershrub reaching up to 7 feet (2 m) height under favorable growing conditions in nature. The plant has a large creeping rhizome and branched roots, alternate leaves, and pale blue to violet flowers. It has highly developed stolongerous roots.
It is cultivated in Europe, Persia, Afghanistan, Egypt and a little extent in some parts of India. The Egyptian variety is considered superior to Arabic and Turkish varieties. Russian and Persian Liquorice is not recognized by the British Pharmacopoeia as suitable for medicinal purposes.
Licorice roots are of medicinal importance and prefer sandy loam fertile soils having a pH of 6 to 8.2. The plant thrives in locations receiving 50-100 cm of rainfall annually. The cultivation is supported with irrigation which ensures better root yield.
For propagation of the plant, the underground stem or root cuttings 15-25 cm long with 2-3 eye buds are planted directly in the field 6-8 cm deep in the soil. Sprouting takes place in 15-20 days after planting. Fresh planting can be raised during February-March or July-August.
At least three to four years are required to produce marketable roots, and only roots two years and older have any commercial value.
Roots: Stolon of yellowish brown or dark brown outer layer, externally longitudinally wrinkled, with occasional small buds and encircling scale leaves. Smoothed transversely, the cut surface shows a cambium ring about one-third of radius from the outer surface and a small central pith, root similar without a pith, fracture, coarsely fibrous in the bark and splintery in wood, odor, faint and characteristic, taste, sweetish.
Leaves: Leaves are alternate and divided into nine to seventeen egg-shaped leaflets, 2 to 5 cm long, arranged as in a feather.
Flowers: Upright axillary inflorescences, spike-like and 10 to 15 cm long. The individual flowers 1 to 1.5 cm long, bluish to a pale violet and short-pedicled. Calyx short, bell-shaped and glandular-haired. Calyx tips longer than the tube and pointed lanceolate. Petals narrow, the carina petals not fused, and they are pointed but not beaked.
- Fruits/seeds: Pod, 1.5 to 2.5 cm long, and 4 to 6 mm wide.
- Native range: Southern Europe to Asia Minor.
- Part(s) used for medicinal purpose: Roots
- Plant type / Growth Habit: Herbaceous Dicot Plant
- Duration: Perennial
- Habitat: Sunny, hot and dry climates with low annual rainfall.
Common Names of Liquorice
- Scientific name | Botanical Name: Glycyrrhiza glabra
- Sanskrit: Yashtimadhuka, Yashtika, Madhuka, Madhuyashthi, Yashthahva
- Assamese: Jesthimadhu, Yeshtmadhu
- Bengali: Jashtimadhu, Yashtimadhu
- English: Sweetwood, Liquorice, Licorice
- Gujrati: Jethimadha, Jethimard, Jethimadh
- Hindi: Mulethi, Mulathi, Muleti, Mulheti, Jethimadhu, Jethimadh
- Kannada: Jestamadu, Madhuka, Jyeshtamadhu, Atimadhura
- Kashmiri: Multhi
- Malayalam: Itarttimadhuram, Erattimadhuram
- Marathi: Jeshtamadhu, Jesthamadh
- Oriya: Jatimadhu, Jastimadhu
- Punjabi: Jethimadh, Mulathi
- Tamil: Athimadhuram, Atimadhuram
- Telugu: Atimadhuramu
- Urdu: Mulethi, Asl-us-sus
- Arabic: Irksos
- Dutch: zoethout
- Italian: liquirizia
- Russian: solodka
- Spanish: orozuz
- Swedish: lakritsväxt
Licorice Scientific Classification
All plants are scientifically classified into main 7 levels. These levels are the Kingdom, Division, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species. A genus comprises of many species and the botanical name consists of Genus (uppercase) followed by Species (lowercase). Genus consists of many species which are closely related and have lots of similarities. Species is the lowest level and represents the plant.
The botanical name of Liquorice is Glycyrrhiza glabra. The genus Glycyrrhiza consists of about 30 species of which Glycyrrhiza glabra is generally recognized as licorice because of its sweet taste. It is a member of the pea family, Fabaceae. The genus Glycyrrhiza is derived from the Greek words glykys=sweet, and rhiza= root and glabra=hairless, referring to the smooth seed pod of the typical variety. Below is given a taxonomical classification of the plant.
- Kingdom: Plantae (comprising all living or extinct plants)
- Subkingdom: Tracheobionta (have lignified tissues or xylem for conducting water and minerals)
- Superdivision: Spermatophyta (produce seeds)
- Division: Magnoliophyta (flowering plants)
- Class: Magnoliopsida (flowering plant producing an embryo with paired cotyledons)
- Subclass: Rosidae
- Order: Fabales
- Family: Fabaceae ⁄ Leguminosae
- Genus: Glycyrrhiza L.
- Species: Glycyrrhiza glabra L.
Licorice | Mulethi Constituents
The principal constituents of licorice are glycyrrhizin and oleanane triterpene glycosides, also known as glycyrrhizinic or glycyrrhizic acid. Flavonoids liquiritin, rhamnoliquiritin, licoflavone, licoisoflavones A and B, licoisoflavonone, glabrol, glyzarin, formononetin, and liquiritigenin are also present. Glycyrrhizin and its aglycone, glycyrrhetinic acid, have been shown to possess remarkable anti-inflammatory activity.
Cumestan derivatives: glycyrol, isoglycyrol, liquocoumarin
Flavonoids: aglycones including liquiritigenin, isoliquiritigenin (its chalcone), isolicoflavonol, isoliquiritin, licoricidin
Hydroxycoumarins: including herniarin, umbelliferone, glycycoumarin, licopyranocoumarin
Isoflavonoids: aglycones formononetin, glabren, glabridin, glabrol, 3-hydroxygIabrol, glycyrrhisoflavone
Steroids: sterols, including beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol
Triterpene saponins (3-15%): Chief components glycyrrhetic acid (sweet-tasting, aglycone 18beta-glycyrrhetic acid, salts termed glycyrrhizin), 18-alpha-glycrrhetic acid, glycyrrhetic acid methyl ester, glabric acid, glabrolide, uralenic acid
Volatile oil (very little): Anethole, estragole, eugenol, hexanoic acid are present.
Other constituents include glucose, amino acids, and volatile oil consisting of fenchone, linalone, furfuryl alcohol, and benzaldehyde.
Mulethi | Liquorice Important Medicinal Properties
Glycyrrhiza glabra is rich in medicinal properties. The understanding of these properties will help us to better utilize this herb. These also indicate the conditions in which we should avoid it. Below is given medicinal properties along with the meaning.
- Adaptogenic: Stabilization of physiological processes and promotion of homeostasis.
- Antacid: Reduces stomach acid level.
- Anti-allergic: Prevents, or relieves an allergy.
- Anti-inflammatory: Reducing inflammation by acting on body mechanisms. Glycyrrhizin structure is similar to hormones produced by the adrenal glands, and this gives it anti-inflammatory and antiallergic properties.
- Antipyretic/antifebrile/febrifuge: Effective against fever. Its cooling and anti-inflammatory properties are helpful in relieving fevers and soothing pain such as headaches.
- Antitussive: Prevent or relieve a cough.
- Antiulcer: Protective and healing effects against gastric ulcers.
- Demulcent: Relieving inflammation or irritation.
- Diuretic: Promoting excretion of urine/agent that increases the amount of urine excreted.
- Emollient: Soothing and softening effect on the skin or an irritated internal surface.
- Expectorant: Promotes the secretion of sputum by the air passages, used to treat coughs.
- Hepatoprotective: Prevent damage to the liver.
- Laxative: Tending to stimulate or facilitate the evacuation of the bowels.
- Estrogenic: Steroid-like compounds change to oestradiol and oestrone, the oestrogen precursors, giving it mild oestrogenic properties.
- Tonic: Restore or improve health or well-being.
Mulethi | Liquorice Ayurvedic Properties and Action
Glycyrrhiza glabra is known as Yashtimadhu, Yashtimadhuka, Mulhathi, and Jethi-madh in Ayurveda. It is considered sweet and bitter in taste (Rasa), sweet after digestion (Vipaka), and is cool in effect (Virya). It is a Sheet Virya herb. Sheet Virya or Cool potency herb subdues Pitta (Bile) Vata (Wind)
- Rasa (taste on the tongue): Madhura (Sweet), Tikta (Bitter)
- Guna (Pharmacological Action): Guru (Heavy), Snigdha (Unctuous)
- Virya (Action): Shita (Cooling),
- Vipaka (transformed state after digestion): Madhura (Sweet)
- Dhatu (Tissue): Affects every tissue.
- Srotas (Channel): Digestive, respiratory, nervous, excretory, reproductive.
It is Madhur Vipak (digests into sweet) and has a building, moistening and a nourishing effect on the body. It is heavy to digest and reduces metabolism. Such herbs are cooling and reduce swelling and decrease Pitta.
Ayurvedic Actions of Mulethi | Liquorice
- Cakshushya: Good for the eyes.
- Jivaniya: Vitalising.
- Kandughna: Eliminates itching
- Kanthya: Good for the throat.
- Kaphahar: Pacifies Kapha dosha in low dose, but aggravates the same in a larger dose.
- Medhya: Benefits of the nervous system.
- Pittahar: Pacifies Pitta Dosha.
- Rasayana: Benefits of all seven tissues.
- Shukral: Increases semen.
- Vatahar: Pacifies Vata Dosha.
- Vranaropana: Heals ulcers and wounds.
Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL) Root Extract
There are two types of licorice commonly available in market standard licorice and deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL). Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice is altered form of licorice for safer consumption. It is an extract of licorice root that contains no glycyrrhizin.
Glycyrrhizin gives sweet taste and flavor to the licorice root. It is about 50 times as sweet as sugar. Glycyrrhizin saponin is a triterpenoid compound and represents a mixture of potassium-calcium-magnesium salts of glycyrrhizic acid. The roots contain about 2 to 25% of Glycyrrhizin.
Glycyrrhizin is hydrolyzed in the body to form glycyrrhetinic acid which inhibits enzymes that metabolize prostaglandins E2 and F2a. This leads to a reduction in gastric acid secretion. Glycyrrhizin inhibits the liver cell injury and is given intravenously for the treatment of chronic viral hepatitis and cirrhosis in Japan.
But Glycyrrhizin also inhibits cortisol metabolism within the kidney and causes water retention and leg swelling. The other common side-effects involve headaches, fatigue, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and other problems.
Glycyrrhizin is removed from the Liquorice to get DGL. Since DGL does not contain glycyrrhizin, hence it is considered much safer to use for gastric reflux. DGL has anti-ulcer, antacid and anti-inflammatory properties and decreases the symptoms associated with acid reflux from the stomach.
DGL may also help in inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis, joint inflammation, and chronic gastritis. DGL is also used to relieve discomfort from chronic indigestion, heartburn, stomach ulcers, and canker sores. DGL may accelerate the healing of gastric and duodenal ulcer disease.
- Canker sores
- Chronic gastritis
- Gastric and duodenal ulcer disease
- Joint inflammation
- Stomach ulcers
- Ulcerative colitis
DGL is available in the form of tablets. Generally, one 300 mg tablet is chewed slowly before or between meals, thrice a day. In the case of mouth ulcers, 200 mg of DGL powder is mixed with 200 ml of water. This water is swished in the mouth for three minutes and then spit out.
Deglycyrrhizinized licorice is usually free of adverse effects.
Licorice (Mulethi) Indications
- Adrenal tonic
- Digestive problems
- Hormonal problems
- Inflammatory problems
- Menstrual and menopausal problems
- Respiratory infections
- Sore throats
- Stress-related problems
- Viral infections including herpes
Licorice (Mulethi) Medicinal Uses
Licorice shows its action on nervous, respiratory digestive, reproductive and excretory organs. It has anti-inflammatory and antacid properties and hence it helps in hyperacidity, gastritis, and ulcers of the mouth, peptic, gastric and duodenal. Licorice is used to stop bleeding from intestine. As it is moistening it helps in constipation. Licorice protects the liver and is given in case of hepatitis and chronic the liver disease.
Respiratory disorders such as asthma, bronchitis, wheezing, phlegm, sore throat, laryngitis, tonsillitis, hoarseness of voice, etc. Licorice is useful. It has heavy and unctuous properties and hence soothes the sore throat.
Licorice rejuvenates the whole reproductive system and increases semen. Due to cooling and anti-inflammatory effects, it is useful in inflammations of the urinary tract, cystitis, painful, burning urination. Here are few remedies using licorice or Mulethi which can be done at home to cure various clinical conditions.
Take Mulethi leaves and apply on the affected area.
Cold and Cough, Upper respiratory infections
Take a piece of Mulethi root, tulsi (5-6 leaves), pudina (few leaves) and cook at low flame for 10 mins. Filter and drink.
Take Mulethi Churna 2 gram, Sitopaladi Churna 2 gram with honey.
Dry skin, pimples, Glow on skin
Mix Mulethi powder with milk and apply on skin.
Eye-related problems, digestive system problem
Take Mulethi powder, fennel powder, and Amla powder. Mix all powders. Take this churna twice a day with water.
Hoarseness of voice
Take Mulethi, Mishri and black pepper and chew.
Make a decoction of Mulethi and drink.
Mix Mulethi powder in lukewarm water and gargle 4 to 5 times in a day.
Mix Mulethi, Shatavari and Musli powder. Take this powder twice a day.
Ulcer, Ulcerative colitis
Mulethi is very useful in the ulcer. It reduces secretion from the stomach and produces thick protective mucus lining which protects the stomach from inflammations gastritis and peptic ulceration. Ground Mulethi (3 gms) and cook in water (400 gm) till it reduces to 200 ml. Filter and drink.
Grind Mulethi roots and apply on the affected area.
Licorice tea (Mulethi tea | Chai)
Liquorice tea is prepared from dried roots of herb Glycyrrhiza glabra. This is also known as Mulethi in Hindi. Liquorice contains glycyrrhizic acid which gives it sweet taste. This herb is useful in treating respiratory tract infections and digestive system problems. Mulethi is helpful in reducing inflammation and irritation in upper respiratory infections. Liquorice tea can be taken by people suffering from sodium and potassium deficiency. But it must be avoided in people who are hypertensive and have any renal disease.
Liquorice is medicinal herb and it must be taken in recommended doses only.
Ingredients for liquorice tea
Liquorice root 1.5 – 2 g, ginger juice (3 ml) honey or sugar (optional) as per taste.
If you are using sugar for sweetness in tea then add it in water and if honey is used then that should not be cooked and added before drinking by simple mixing.
Recipe of liquorice tea
- Take 150 ml of water in a pan and bring this to boil.
- In this boiling water add crushed liquorice root or its powder with ginger juice.
- Simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
- Strain and drink lukewarm.
- You may add honey or sugar in this tea as per taste.
Health Benefits of liquorice tea
- It gives relief in hyperacidity, heartburn and indigestion.
- It gives relief in sore throat.
- It has expectorant and reduces cough and phlegm.
- It helps in bronchial asthma.
- It improves immunity.
- It reduces stress and anxiety.
Mulethi (Liquorice) Dosage
The recommended dosage of Liquorice is given below:
Decoction: 1-4 g licorice root placed in approximately 150-250 ml cold water. Boiled, simmered for 10-15 minutes, then strained; 2-3 times daily.
Infusion: Approximately 150 ml boiling water poured over 4.5 g licorice root and steeped 10-15 minutes; 2-3 times daily.
Tincture: 3-12ml per day of a 1:3
Fluid extract: 2-5 ml, 3 times daily.
Powdered Root: Approximately 1-3 g root daily.
Deglycyrrhized Licorice (DGL) Preparations
DGL Native Dry Extract: 0.4-1.6 g, 3 times daily.
DGL chewable tablets: For acute cases of gastric or duodenal ulcers; 2-4 tablets chewed before each meal. For chronic cases, 1 to 2 tablets chewed before each meal.
Contraindications of Liquorice (Who should not take mulethi?)
- Person suffering from any of the below condition should not take licorice:
- Cholestatic the liver disorders
- Erectile dysfunction
- Fluid retention, oedema
- Heart disease
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast, ovarian, uterine, or prostate cancer
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Long-term use
- Low potassium (hypokalemia)
Liquorice in Pregnancy
In view of the documented pharmacological and toxicological effects, liquorice should not be used during pregnancy and lactation.
A study has shown that 18β-glycyrrhetinic acid crosses through the placental barrier and can be detected in the rat fetuses. In developmental toxicity studies, glycyrrhizin (ammonium salt) exhibited some embryotoxicity to the developing rat fetus, but the fetal effects were considered as minor. Another study suggested that 100 mg/kg of licorice extract repeated for 7 days may also aggravate body weight loss and malformations of fetuses, induced by intrauterine exposure to cyclophosphamide.
Another study shows heavy glycyrrhizin exposure during pregnancy did not significantly affect birth weight, but it was significantly associated with lower gestational age.
Drug Interactions of licorice
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (Captopril, Benazepril, Enalapril, Lisinopril , Gosinopril, Ramipril, Perindopril, Quinapril, Moexipril, Trandolapril)
- Diabetes medications
- Diuretics (Water Pills)
- MAO inhibitors
- Oral contraceptives
Licorice may potentiate the side effects of potassium-depleting thiazide diuretics (eg., chlorothiazide, chlorthalidone, hydrochlorothiazide, and metolazone). With potassium loss, sensitivity to digitalis glycosides increases. Licorice should not be combined with corticoid treatment.
Do not use with digitalis as it decreases the effectiveness and increases side effects related to potassium and sodium ions.
Overdosage of Liquorice
The intake of higher dosages (above 20 gm per day for the extract and above 50 gm per day for the root) over an extended period of time will lead to hypokalemia, hypernatremia, edemas, hypertension, and cardiac complaints.
In rare cases, myoglobinuria has resulted due to the mineralocorticoid (aldosterone-like) effect of the saponins.
Determining a common dose safe for all is difficult.
The recommended average daily dose is 5 to 15 gm of the root, equivalent to 200 to 600 mg of glycyrrhizin. The drug is not to be taken longer than 6 weeks.
Side-effects and Warnings Liquorice
Side effects have been noted in cases of prolonged use of excessive intake including hyperkalemia, pseudo-aldosteronism, and hypertension.
- Licorice tea contains sodium which causes an elevation in blood pressure. it must not be used by a person suffering from hypertension and kidney diseases.
- It is also recommended that this tea should not be consumed in excess as that may cause symptom related to hypertension and some other side effects.
- It should not be used for more than 4 weeks.
- It should be avoided in pregnancy.
- It may cause muscle pain or numbness in the arms and legs.
- Any licorice product for longer than 4 to 6 weeks is contraindicated.
- While taking ACE inhibitors and diuretics for high blood pressure, DO NOT use licorice products.
- In a small dose, it stops vomiting. But in a high dose, it induces vomiting.
- It inhibits calcium and potassium absorption and hence should be taken with caution in osteoporosis.
- 4-6 weeks continues use can cause Hypokalaemia.
- When taken in combination with thiazide diuretics, laxatives, it may increase potassium loss.
- Its use along with diuretics, cardiac glycosides, corticosteroids, stimulant laxatives or other medications which may aggravate electrolyte imbalance is not recommended.
- It can increase the effects of a high salt diet.
- It may reduce the effects of the contraceptive pill.
- The use in children and adolescents under 18 years of age has not been established due to lack of adequate data.
- Patients taking Liquorice medication should not take other Liquorice containing products as serious adverse events may occur such as water retention, hypokalemia, hypertension, cardiac rhythm disorders.
- Licorice medication is not recommended to be used in patients affected by hypertension, kidney diseases, the liver or cardiovascular disorders or hypokalemia, as they are more sensitive to the adverse effects of Liquorice.
- Licorice appears to have anti-estrogenic and estrogenic activity, where the constituent glabridin has estrogenic activity at low concentrations and anti-estrogenic activity at high concentrations.
- Licorice may decrease testosterone production in young healthy men.
- A person prone to potassium deficiency should not use licorice.
- Co-administered deglycyrrhizinized licorice increased the bioavailability of nitrofurantoin.
Also Read: Caution for Liquorice use
FAQs About Licorice
1- Where does Glycyrrhiza glabra grow?
Licorice is native to southern Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia. It grows in the deep and sandy soil of good fertility in warm regions with the long growing season. It does not thrive on heavy soil as the rhizomes cannot penetrate easily into soli. The plant grows slowly and does not develop rhizomes of marketable quality in less than 3 or 4 years.
Licorice is cultivated in many countries including Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Egypt, the United States, and India. In India, it is cultivated in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Sub-Himalayan tracts.
2- What are the propagation methods of licorice? how to grow Glycyrrhiza glabra?
Licorice can be grown from both the seeds and cuttings. But the cutting method is more preferred. The rhizomes or suckers are separated to get new plants.
3- What is Glycyrrhiza glabra used for?
Licorice is used in the treatment of a variety of ailments including bronchitis, dry cough, respiratory
infections, catarrh, tuberculosis, genitourinary diseases, urinary tract infections; abdominal pain, gastric and duodenal ulcers, inflamed stomach, mouth ulcer, and adrenocorticoid insufficiency.
4- How to use Glycyrrhiza glabra?
Liquorice is used in the form of powder, tea, decoction, mother tincture, and deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) Root Extract.
5- What are licorice benefits for the skin.
Licorice use reduces the blemishes, brightens, heals and soothes irritated skin and lightens the dark under-eye circles, discoloration and age spots.
5- Is Liquorice good for baldness?
Yes. Its paste is applied on spot baldness.
6- Can licorice help in obesity?
Licorice may reduce body fat but the accompanying fluid retention offsets any change in the body weight.
7- What is De-glycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL)?
DGL (deglycyrrhizinated liquorice) is a special liquorice Root Extract manufactured to avoid the side effects of licorice by removing the active compound glycyrrhizin and is available in capsules, lozenges, wafers, and liquid. It is used in the treatment of peptic ulcer.
8- Is Liquorice safe?
It is safe to use Liquorice in the recommended dosage ONLY. Overdose of the root can cause oedema, leg swelling, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure.
9- Is Glycyrrhiza glabra safe during pregnancy?
No, it is unsafe to use it during pregnancy and lactation. It may cause premature birth. Some studies suggest that taking licorice during pregnancy can increase the risk of stillbirth.
It is unknown if the removal of the glycyrrhizin constituent in licorice makes DGL safe during pregnancy. There are no reports in the literature of DGL being either safe or contraindicated during pregnancy.