Happy National Liquorice Day… what was that? You didn’t realise that it was! No neither did I until I read a wonderful article from Knapsack Spirit. Serendipity really as I was planning to write about this wonderful plant and finding out that today is deemed National Liquorice Day somewhere in the world just cemented that fact.
Liquorice… love it or hate it, this plant is amazing. A member of the pea family (fabiaceae) it is 50 times sweeter than sugar. It tastes sweet and slightly bitter and is moistening and warming. It is the root which is used in herbal medicine. How many of you pick up a root from the health food shop and have a good chew on it? Releasing all of the flavours and helping to clean your teeth naturally too!!
This herb is one to be used with caution though, people with high blood pressure, diabetes, health issues with your liver or possible low potassium levels or cardiac disease shouldn’t take this medicine without the guidance of your doctor or a health professional such as myself. You should also be cautious taking this herb if you are on cardiac glycosides, corticoids or hydrocortisone medications. Herbal safety is important – most people think that herbs are safe because they are natural but they are the original medicines and contain active constituents which can affect a persons health positively or negatively which is why you should always consult a professional.
Now onto the fun and interesting bit… liquorice has been classed as an adaptogenic herb. Adaptogens are important herbs used by herbalists as they help the body to adapt to stress and support normal functioning, they can instigate a change in hormone status and also boost the immune system and digestive ability. When you think of all the health issues of yourself and the people around you a large majority of them are caused by stress or stress is a significant factor which aggravated health problems further.
Liquorice is contraindicated when a person is taking steroid medications because the herb itself stimulates immune function and lessens the stress response. The purpose of steroids is to suppress the immune system, stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are natural supressors of the immune system which is why we are more suceptible to illness when we are stressed and run down. Pharmaceuticals have harnessed that fact in the production of steroid drugs such as hydrocortisol creams to suppress an overactive immune fuction. Liquorice contains saponins called glycrrhizin which the body used to create hormones including steriod hormones. It all starts to make sense once you become aware of the body and how it works 🙂
Liquorice has been used as a food and medicine throughout the centuries. It is a tonic restorative for the adrenal glands (which is where the stress hormones are produced). It has been used in several different herbal traditions for the treatment of coughs, colds and other respiratory diseases. There is a link between the adrenals and the lungs – during foetal development they both develop in the womb at the same time. The link continues through adulthood as people who have experienced a lot of stress (and therefore have depleted their adrenals, something called adrenal fatigue) tend to have lots of upper respiratory infectiosn such as coughs and colds. I have seen this personally through clinic observation of patients. As the adrenals are supported and energy levels restored (as much as possible) so the number of chest infections drops.
Liquorice is also very beneficial to the digestive system, it can strengthen the stomach, reduce diarrhoea, clear heat, dispel toxins and support the repair of ulcerated tissue. It is anti-inflammatory and hepato-protective. This means that it can reduce inflammation and protects the liver. The liver is an important organ as it processes all the hormones that circulate in the body as well as all of the medicines which we take. When you go out on a bender it is the liver which has to process the alcohol and the reason why you suffer a hang over the next day. So supporting and protecting the liver has a beneficial impact on your health and wellbeing (and may reduce the suffering the day after the night before!!). People who have inflammatory bowel diseases will benefit from liquorice’s amazing restorative ability, conditions include: Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastritis, gastric ulcers, duodenal ulcers, ileitis and leaky gut syndrome.
There is a history of liquorice being cultivated in England which interests me greatly as I try to source my herbs as locally as possible and cultivate the ones which I cannot source. I will be looking to cultivate this in my garden in Grimsby once I have sourced some seeds. Love it or hate it, I prescribe this herb alot because of its beneficial and nourishing actions. So here’s to Liquorice… a herb which has a day dedictated to itself.
Related articles: http://knapsackspirit.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/licorice-root/
Grieve, M (1977) “A Modern Herbal” Great Britain Peregrine Books
Wilson, J (2011) “Adrenal Fatigue. The 21st Century Stress Syndrome” United States Smart Publications
Winston, D and Maimes, S (2007) “Adaptogens. Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief” United States Healing Arts Press