Licorice in Medicine

The medical profession, most notably in Europe but also in Japan, has been rediscovering the medicinal uses of licorice and certain of its key components in the last three decades.

Stomach Troubles
Licorice has a centuries-old history as a natural home remedy for gastritis, acid reflux and heartburn. It acts to support and enhance the stomach’s natural self-protective mechanisms, and promotes growth of new cells in the stomach lining. “Licorice has been an effective treatment of peptic ulcers in many countries for hundreds of years,” reports US Pharmacist. But modern medicine also recognizes its benefits: Carbenoxolone, a derivative of one of the main compounds in licorice, was developed by researchers in London in the early 1960s and has become, in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, the preferred form of licorice used to promote healing of ulcers.

Anti-viral Properties
Some of the most recent research discoveries, potentially very exciting, have explored the ability of glycyrrhizin to inhibit or prevent certain classes of virus from replicating themselves in the cells of the body. Although considerable work remains to be done, several researchers have reported positive results using licorice derivatives against SARS, influenza, and HIV. In an article in US Pharmacist titled Herbal Pharmacy: Licorice, Wendell L. Combest, PhD, Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Campbell University School of Pharmacy writes that “Since 1980 strong evidence has accumulated supporting the efficacy of several compounds in licorice in the treatment of many types of viral infections. … The mechanism of this effect appears to be both a direct inhibitory action on viral replication and function and a stimulating effect on the host immune system to produce interferon, which has known antiviral effects.”

Throat and Respiratory Ailments
Licorice has long been used in folk medicine and by herbal medicine practitioners as an expectorant and cough suppressant. Colds and flu have been treated with licorice since at least Roman times. Most cough medicines include licorice extract for its soothing effects on mucous membranes.