Liquorice is a plant rich in qualities but also comes with pros and cons. Therefore, it seems appropriate to highlight the real properties of liquorice, investigating its benefits for the body while not neglecting possible contraindications.The liquorice available in the market is extracted from the roots of the Glycyrrhiza glabra typica, a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the Fabaceae family. This plant has ancient origins and has always been used for its significant characteristics.
Let’s take a closer look.
The plant from which liquorice is extracted
The liquorice we find for sale is extracted from the roots of Glycyrrhiza glabra typica, a perennial herbaceous plant native to the Mediterranean basin and Southwest Asia.
Characteristics of Glycyrrhiza glabra typica
Glycyrrhiza glabra typica is the most prized variety of a vast plant family. The characteristics of this plant are numerous. Let’s begin by looking at those related to its structure and growth conditions.
The plant has an erect and very flexible stem, and its leaves are imparipinnate. Each small branch consists of 9/15 oval or elliptical leaflets.
The flowers are usually bluish-violet at the apex and whitish at the base, the inflorescences are gathered in loose and elongated racemes. The fruit is a small, non-edible legume.
However, the distinctive feature of liquorice lies in its roots: extremely long, up to two meters. These roots have a woody consistency and penetrate deep into the ground. It is from these roots that the liquorice sold in stores is extracted.
The properties of liquorice, from a climatic point of view, boil down to two main requirements: a mild climate with not excessively cold winters and a deep, clayey soil. The plant grows up to 1000 meters above sea level.
One of the most prized varieties grows spontaneously on the Ionian coasts of Calabria, where it is processed by a centuries-old company renowned worldwide for the quality of its products: Amarelli from Rossano Calabro.
Since it is a wild plant, it is challenging to cultivate it intentionally. However, it is possible to find it in nurseries that specialize in original aromatic plants.
Harvesting and extraction of liquorice
The liquorice roots are collected from the soil during autumn, until the end of November. Mature plants, at least three or four years old, are usually chosen.
The roots are cleaned of lateral shoots and thoroughly washed. Then they are cut into smaller pieces and dried in specific ovens at a temperature of 40° Celsius.
From these initial operations, a finished product is already obtained, namely the raw roots or liquorice sticks. These pure “sticks” can be chewed or used to prepare infusions. If you are interested in purchasing them, you can find them here.
The extraction of liquorice juice is done with hot water jets.
The obtained extract is further purified from any root residues, clarified, and concentrated through boiling. This process is carried out using large open boilers, with purely mechanical-physical processes.
The resulting concentrate is solidified and further processed through hot extrusion.
The final processing steps involve the creation of a very dense, typically glossy, and highly aromatic black paste. This paste, passing through various machines, takes on the desired shape (diamonds, tablets etc). Here are some examples that you can purchase.
Now let’s explore the properties of liquorice, also known as the “black gold” of Calabria.
Properties of Liquorice
Liquorice has numerous properties, and its use as a natural remedy has been known since ancient times. Ancient civilizations that bordered the Mediterranean basin (Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans) recognized its therapeutic abilities and used it extensively.
The ancient Chinese herbal medicine traces liquorice’s uses back 5000 years. Even today, in traditional Chinese medicine, it is one of the most commonly used plants.
The most important active compound, present in significant quantities in liquorice, is glycyrrhizin. This active compound provides liquorice with anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. Let’s delve into these properties in detail.
Natural remedy for hypotension
If you have low blood pressure, one of the main properties of liquorice is its ability to raise it. The active compound glycyrrhizin acts directly on aldosterone levels, a hormone that regulates blood pressure. A simple infusion with crushed roots or a few tablets can help you avoid fainting and dizziness.
However, be cautious, as for this very property of liquorice, tablets and infusions are contraindicated for those suffering from hypertension, i.e., high blood pressure.
Expectorant and anti-inflammatory properties for the oral cavity
Among the properties of liquorice is its effectiveness for respiratory problems. The decoction of its roots is an emollient that soothes coughs, clears the nose in case of colds, and disinfects an irritated throat. Additionally, it has expectorant qualities that help eliminate phlegm in cases of bronchitis.
Remedy for bad breath
Who has never eaten a piece of pure liquorice to solve the problem of bad breath? If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot…
Regulator of liver function
Liquorice’s properties are not only characterized by glycyrrhizin. The plant is also rich in other elements such as flavonoids, glucose, starch, and vitamin C. All these elements are antioxidants and help reduce the level of triglycerides and transaminases in liver tissues. Consequently, this promotes an increase in hepatic glycogen.
Moreover, prolonged use of liquorice improves the overall condition of those suffering from chronic liver insufficiency.
In addition to this action, the plant is also an effective anti-inflammatory, beneficial for those suffering from gastric and duodenal ulcers.
The scent of liquorice seems to stimulate female pleasure through an inexplicable chemical reaction.
Legend has it that Giacomo Casanova always had scented liquorice on his bedside table before embarking on an amorous adventure. Costly liquorice perfumes are still for sale today under the Italian seducer’s name.
Unfortunately, liquorice’s properties are not all positive. Excessive use has its contraindications. As mentioned earlier, its use is not recommended for those with hypertension. It also increases sodium retention in the blood, which can cause fluid retention in predisposed individuals.
It negatively affects the body’s mineral balance, which is why it is not recommended for women using contraceptive pills, as it increases the risk of hypokalemia. Lastly, diabetics and those with severe kidney insufficiency should limit its use.
- PubMed – “Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): A phytochemical and pharmacological review”. This study provides a comprehensive review of the phytochemical and pharmacological aspects of liquorice.
- PubMed – “18β-Glycyrrhetinic acid: its core biological properties and dermatological applications”. This review examines the valuable biological properties of 18β-Glycyrrhetinic acid, particularly those playing key roles in the treatment of various skin conditions.
- WebMD – “Health Benefits of Licorice Root”. This comprehensive article discusses the various health benefits of licorice root, including its use in treating ulcers, cancer, viral and bacterial infections, and obesity. It also highlights potential adverse effects and interactions with medications.