Licorice is probably the most widely used herb in Oriental medicine. Its main actions are related to its sweet taste and high content of natural sugars, and its content of hormonal compounds. Licorice is useful alone, or as an addition to nearly any formula, both helping with flavour and through its ability to assist other herbs in their actions. It is also considered detoxifying to the potential side effects of other herbs.
Licorice has been used with great success as a tonic for balancing low blood sugar levels, since the sugars in it seem to be encapsulated into “time-release” cells to be used when needed, rather than entering the system all at once like other sugars. Licorice is also used to stimulate the appetite and the building of flesh, and may be helpful in cases of anorexia and related disorders.
Licorice has constituents similar in makeup to cortisone, and so may be useful for chronic, painful inflammations such as arthritis. Because of its spectrum of hormonal components, it is also taken for imbalances in ovulation and the menstrual cycle. Licorice has also shown strong immune-building properties, as well as specific actions against herpes and the bacteria which may cause stomach ulcers.
Caution: Licorice should be treated carefully by people with hypertension, heart problems, high blood pressure, or over-active adrenals. It affects the balance of salts in the bloods, a potentially useful action, but prolonged or high doses can cause sodium retention and potassium depletion, and may lead to hypertension, edema, nervousness, or elevated blood pressure.
Often these problems can be lessened by using Licorice in smaller doses, in combination with other herbs, and/or by supplementing the diet with higher potassium intake than normal.