You probably tried black licorice when you were a kid, and either loved it or hated it. Its sweet taste is distinct and has similar flavouring to fennel or anise. In fact, licorice candy often contains less licorice extract and more anise flavouring, but it’s the extract — the remnants of boiled licorice root — that has many health benefits.
In Chinese medicine, licorice root is considered to have strong anti-inflammatory properties and is a treatment of a variety of illnesses, from stomach ulcers to diabetes. It is used to soothe coughs and sore throats, control blood sugar, balance hormones, heal cold sores, and treat eczema, asthma, flu, herpes, and hepatitis. Its also popularly used as a natural laxative, so it can help with constipation, and as an aid for digestive problems. According to the medical journal, Nutrition and Cancer, substances in licorice may even protect against carcinogen-induced DNA. Furthermore, research suggests that it may help inhibit tumor formations and kill cancer cells.
You can get too much of a good thing
Before you stock up on packages of black licorice, however, know that eating too much could lead to toxicity. Over-consumption may cause high blood pressure, low potassium, and edema (swelling caused by fluid retention). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that for anyone over 40, eating more than 2 ounces a day for more than two weeks can lead to irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia.
The compound glycyrrhizin, found in licorice, is the sweetening agent responsible for the potential side effects. However, it is possible to get a dietary supplement known as deglycyrrhizin licorice with the glycyrrhizin removed, though whole licorice is still sometimes the preferred method for treatment, particularly for respiratory problems. Speak to your natural health practitioner for their recommendations and if you’re taking medication, talk to your doctor about possible interactions.
Used in moderation, licorice can be an effective treatment for a variety of ailments and health issues. Here’s a recipe on how to make your own licorice candy, or try making a soothing licorice root tea.