The Secret Life of Licorice Root

Do you often feel overwhelmed by the demands of everyday life? If so, you’re not alone. Our modern world bombards us with stressors left and right, leaving us scrambling to find ways to adapt and cope. What if I told you there might be a surprising solution hiding in nature? Enter licorice root, a humble herb with remarkable adaptogenic potential, even though it is not an official adaptogen

This unassuming root can help our bodies navigate the turbulent waters of stress and restore balance to weary minds and bodies. In this article, we delve into the use of this root as medicine, exploring its anti-inflammatory properties, ability to soothe gastrointestinal irritation and the precautions to consider before incorporating it into your routine. Get ready to discover a natural weapon in the battle against stress and inflammation.

A Promising Pseudo-Adaptogen

Licorice root, an unassuming natural herb used in traditional Chinese medicine and old-fashioned candies, holds incredible potential as a healing herb. In this section, we will uncover the proof that this root is a promising ally in the battle against stress and its effects on our bodies. By the end of this section, you’ll understand why it appears on the list of adaptogens that help you find balance in body and mind, even though it’s not officially one.

Image of licorice root and the traditional black licorice candy most people think of

Note: many products claiming to contain licorice root in the US actually have anise instead. It tastes similar but may not offer the same benefits. Make sure to buy from trusted sources and read labels carefully. 

The Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Licorice Root

This root masquerading as an adaptogen possesses remarkable anti-inflammatory properties. As mentioned earlier, stress can wreak havoc on our bodies, leading to chronic inflammation and a weakened immune system. However, licorice root’s anti-inflammatory effects can help counteract these negative impacts.

Studies such as this one (Yang, R., Yuan, B. C., Ma, Y. S., Zhou, S., & Liu, Y. (2017). The anti-inflammatory activity of licorice, a widely used Chinese herb. Pharmaceutical biology55(1), 5–18.) highlight its ability to inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory molecules, such as cytokines and prostaglandins, which are responsible for triggering inflammation in the body. By reducing inflammation, it can alleviate symptoms associated with arthritis, asthma, and other inflammatory disorders.

Moreover, licorice root contains compounds like glycyrrhizin and flavonoids that possess powerful antioxidant properties. These antioxidants help neutralize harmful free radicals, which are known to contribute to inflammation and oxidative stress. By combatting oxidative stress, these compounds can help protect our cells from damage and support overall well-being. 

This is not simply the opinion of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), either. Over fifty studies show the significant immunomodulatory, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects of compounds found within licorice root, according to this meta-study prompted by the coronavirus pandemic that shut down the world in 2020 (Gomaa, A. A., & Abdel-Wadood, Y. A. (2021). The potential of glycyrrhizin and licorice extract in combating COVID-19 and associated conditions. Phytomedicine Plus1(3), 100043). 

Soothing Tummy Trouble

Licorice root not only holds promise as a plant-based remedy to combat stress and promote overall well-being, but it also offers potential benefits in soothing gastrointestinal irritation. For centuries, the root has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to alleviate digestive discomfort and support a healthy gut (Yang R., Wang L.Q., Yuan B.C., Liu Y. The pharmacological activities of licorice. Planta Med. 2015;81:1654–1669. doi: 10.1055/s-0035-1557893). 

Its marvelous anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. This can relieve conditions such as gastritis, ulcers, and acid reflux. Licorice root can promote healing and improve digestive function by soothing the lining of the stomach and intestines.

The key to its gastrointestinal benefits lies in its ability to increase mucus production in the stomach. Sounds gross, but the increased mucus acts as a protective barrier, shielding the stomach lining from acid and other irritating substances. This helps to calm irritation and reduce discomfort.

Furthermore, the root has been found to possess antimicrobial properties, which can help address bacterial overgrowth in the gut. Imbalances in gut bacteria can lead to various digestive issues. The theory is that licorice root’s antimicrobial effects can help restore a healthy balance, supporting optimal digestive health.

With its potential to soothe gastrointestinal irritation and reduce inflammation, this humble plant offers an intriguing avenue for improving digestive health. 

However, as we delve deeper into the usage of licorice root, it is crucial to consider the cautions and considerations that come with its use. The following section will explore the potential side effects and interactions that should be considered before incorporating this humble root into your wellness routine. Stay tuned for valuable insights to help you make informed decisions about licorice root as an adaptogen.

Cautions and Considerations for Use

One of the main reasons licorice root is not an adaptogen is that it can cause harm when used in high doses or for long periods, which a true adaptogen would not. Understanding the potential risks and interactions associated with usage is essential in maintaining your overall well-being. By being aware of the possible side effects, you can make informed decisions about whether this root is the correct herbal remedy for you. It is important to note that licorice root should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment or prescribed medications. Instead, it should be viewed as a complementary approach to support your health.

One potential concern with licorice root is its impact on blood pressure. Due to the presence of glycyrrhizin (the same compound thought to be responsible for its anti-inflammatory effects), consuming large quantities or using the root over an extended period may lead to water retention and even elevate blood pressure levels. Individuals with hypertension or cardiovascular issues should exercise caution and consult a healthcare professional before incorporating it into their routine.

Additionally, it is essential to consider any pre-existing medical conditions or medications you may be taking that could interact negatively. Licorice root has been found to interact with certain medications, including blood thinners, corticosteroids, and diuretics. It may be unsafe for those with kidney disease, like my husband, and pregnant or nursing women. Therefore, discussing your licorice root usage with a healthcare professional is crucial to avoid any potential complications or adverse reactions.

In summary, while it holds promise as a plant-based medicine, it is crucial to approach its usage cautiously. You can make informed decisions about incorporating licorice root into your wellness routine by being aware of the potential side effects and interactions and consulting with a medical professional before use. 

Assuming your doctor gave you the go-ahead, let’s explore another exciting aspect of licorice root: cooking with it. As you should know by now, if you’ve been following this series on adaptogenic plants, I mistrust most supplements on the market and prefer using food as medicine whenever possible. 

Cooking With Licorice Root

Licorice root is not just for candy making – it offers potential health benefits and adds a unique and distinct flavor to various dishes and beverages. From savory to sweet, it can be a versatile ingredient that adds depth and complexity to your culinary creations.

One popular way to utilize the root in cooking is by infusing it into hot beverages. Whether you enjoy a soothing cup of licorice root tea (learn how to make it here) or prefer to incorporate it into your morning coffee, the natural sweetness and subtle earthy notes can provide a twist to your usual drink routine. Experiment with different combinations and ratios to find the perfect balance that suits your taste buds.

When I was a kid, the church my family belonged to had an annual “Pioneer Day” festival. Everyone would dress in old-fashioned clothes, play games like kick the can, make corn husk dolls, and participate in a chili cookoff. One of the men we went to church with would brew authentic old-fashioned root beer and serve it in a giant metal can with dry ice clouds billowing about. He stirred it with a giant wood stick like a witch stirring a cauldron and ladled cupfuls to thirsty “pioneers.” It was my favorite part of Pioneer Day. Alas, I don’t have his recipe, as I lost contact with that family decades ago. Still, I found this fantastic recipe for you to try because real old-fashioned root beer is a must-have. 

Image of a mug of old-fashioned home-brewed root beer made with licorice root.

Licorice root can also be used to enhance the flavors of savory dishes. When incorporated into marinades or sauces, it can bring a hint of sweetness and earthiness that complements a wide range of ingredients. For example, consider adding a pinch of root powder to a marinade for grilled chicken or incorporating it into a homemade barbecue sauce for a unique twist. Or, try this licorice root and malt beer beef stew recipe

If you have a sweet tooth, licorice can be a fascinating addition to your dessert recipes. Its natural sweetness pairs well with chocolate, caramel, and other rich flavors. For a flavorful twist, try incorporating some root powder into your favorite brownie recipe or infusing it into a creamy custard base for a licorice-infused ice cream. The possibilities are endless, and experimenting can lead to delightful culinary discoveries, like this licorice root and lime parfait dessert.

Before diving into the world of licorice root-infused dishes, it is necessary to note a few precautions. Just like with its adaptogenic properties, it is essential to approach usage in cooking with caution. It can be overpowering in large amounts, so it’s best to start with small quantities and gradually increase the dosage to achieve the desired flavor profile. Additionally, sourcing licorice root from reputable suppliers is always advisable to ensure its quality and purity.

Incorporating this sweet yet spicy root into your cooking endeavors can add exciting flavors and allow you to explore the potential health benefits in a delicious way. However, it’s important to remember that licorice root may not suit everyone. As with any dietary change or addition, it is crucial to consider your individual circumstances. Consulting with a healthcare professional or a licensed nutritionist can help you determine the appropriate usage in your culinary adventures.

Not a True Adaptogen, But it is Beneficial

In conclusion, licorice root is a promising pseudo-adaptogen that holds surprising potential in helping our bodies navigate the relentless currents of stress. Its ability to normalize bodily processes and its impressive anti-inflammatory properties make it a valuable ally in soothing gastrointestinal irritation caused by chronic low-grade stress. However, it is crucial to approach licorice root cautiously, considering potential side effects and seeking guidance from a healthcare practitioner. 

Click through to read about other miraculous and medicinal herbs or essential minerals so you can continue to explore using food as medicine to balance body, mind, and soul and glow from the inside out.

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