11 Health Benefits Of Licorice (Yashtimadhu) That You Should Know About

Health benefits of licorice include relief from respiratory infections, peptic ulcers, and dental infections.

[pullquote]Sweet and unctuous, licorice is supposed to have a cooling effect and helps balance vata and pitta. Apart from being a remedy unto itself, licorice is also used in many herbal concoctions for its sweet flavor, helping mask other bitter herbs.[/pullquote]

Licorice or Glycyrrhiza glabra Linn is so much more than just a distinctive flavored candy or flavoring agent. In use for generations in Iranian and Chinese traditional medicine and ayurveda, licorice or yashtimadhu can come in handy for all manner of ailments – including many which are increasingly relevant today like managing stress or treating gastric ulcers. Which is why you need to take a closer look at the health benefits of this natural remedy and see if it’s something that could help you too!


1. Fights Upper Respiratory Tract Infections

Licorice is used in remedies for upper respiratory tract infections and can ease growing congestion associated with these illnesses.1 Licorice has anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, and antiviral properties thanks to components like glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetinic acid which are beneficial for anyone with a respiratory tract infection. To top it off, licoricidin, glycerol, glycyrin, and glycycoumarin in licorice can fight bacteria associated with upper respiratory tract infections.2

2. Prevents Tooth Decay And Fights Oral Infections

[pullquote]If you have aphthous ulcers, a very common oral disease, licorice may offer respite by managing the pain and bringing down the time taken for the ulcers to heal.3[/pullquote]


Licorice and licorice extracts have bioactive ingredients that could help defend against and treat oral and dental diseases like dental caries or tooth decay, periodontitis (gum disease), and fungal infections of the mouth like candidiasis. So how does it work? Having licorice stimulates saliva production, helping cleanse and remineralize teeth. It also exerts an antibacterial effect. Lab studies also confirm the inhibitory and anti-inflammatory action of licorice against pathogens responsible for gum infections. It has a protective, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and immune-boosting effect if you happen to have oral candidiasis. That said, human studies are lacking, so licorice can’t be suggested as something you have on a daily basis for oral health. Instead, the localized or topical use of licorice extracts or its bioactive components may be a better way to go.4

3. Helps Memory And Learning

Licorice is said to have the ability to enhance memory and protect your brain. This accounts for many of its applications in ayurveda and traditional medicine.5 The flavonoid glabridin found in licorice has been found to improve both memory and learning in test animals. And as one set of researchers explained, while this was the effect it had on non-diabetic test mice, it could even reverse or prevent memory and learning deficits in subjects as a result of diabetes.6


The glycyrrhizin responsible for the sweetness characteristic of licorice may also have potential to be used therapeutically for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease in which patients experience cognitive deficits and neuroinflammation.7

4. Eases Stress And Revitalizes The Brain

In ayurveda, licorice is also dubbed “mulethi” and is renowned as a brain tonic and revitalizer. Licorice boosts blood circulation to the central nervous system and helps rejuvenate the brain. It is also said to ease stress, helping calm and relax the mind.8


5. Controls Diabetes Symptoms Of Excessive Thirst And Hunger

Licorice is no miracle cure for diabetes and doesn’t bring down your blood sugar levels. What it can do, however, as one animal study found, is ease symptoms associated with diabetes. Excessive thirst known as polydipsia is typical of diabetics, and in the study, licorice intake resulted in a 45% decrease in this symptom. Consequently, with less fluid intake, the problem of frequent urination, a common irritant that can interfere with sleep and daily life, also reduced. It also reduced the incidence of hyperphagia (excessive hunger and increased appetite) by about 20% in test animals.9

6. Reduces Menopausal Hot Flashes

Licorice is also being explored for its potential to treat menopausal hot flashes thanks to its estrogenic effects.10 As one group of researchers found, the herbal remedy could help bring down both the frequency as well as the intensity of hot flashes experienced by menopausal women.11 One small study also found that taking licorice was comparable to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in terms of its benefits for the subjects. Women who took the conventional treatment of HRT showed similar frequency, time, and severity of hot flashes as those on licorice therapy, proving its potential as a natural, milder form of treatment.12


7. Counters Skin Problems And Improves Skin Tone

If you are looking for ways to clear acne rashes and improve your complexion, ayurvedic facials using a herbal paste known as “yashtimadhu churna mukhalepa” can be beneficial. This doesn’t just work for acne and pimples but also lightens marks, scars, and pigmentation problems. In one study, some test subjects were given yashtimadhu churna mixed with honey and the other half yashtimadhu churna mixed with water. After 45 days of use, there was a significant improvement in the skin and complexion of both groups. The group using honey mixed with the churna saw greater improvement in skin texture than the water-based mukhalepa.13 Traditional Chinese herbal remedies also use licorice to treat pimples and acne.14

8. Tackles Peptic Ulcers

If you have peptic ulcer disease, you may wind up with breaks or ulcers in your stomach lining (gastric ulcers) or the first section of your small intestine (duodenal ulcer). This can result in stomach pain with a burning sensation.15 Licorice is a good alternative remedy for both duodenal and gastric ulcers. It boosts the production of mucus and covers the lesion site, protecting it against the acids and digestive enzyme pepsin secreted in the digestive system. The glycyrrhizinic acids in licorice also counter Helicobacter pylori, inhibiting the growth of this bacteria responsible for peptic ulcers.16


Researchers studying its effects on treating such ulcers suggested that licorice may offer an effective yet low-cost alternative to traditional treatment by antibiotics and drugs (proton pump inhibitors) that reduce stomach acid production. What makes licorice even more compelling is it has no major side effects from short-term use.17

9. Keeps Your Heart In Good Shape

Licorice has potent antioxidant effects and could have cardiovascular health benefits. In one study, licorice extracts were able to successfully bring down the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in animal test subjects with atherosclerosis. This effect was also seen in human test subjects – both normal as well as those with high cholesterol levels (hypercholesterolemia). Researchers have also found it could specifically help those with atherosclerosis in three ways – by bringing down levels of plasma lipoproteins, lowering blood pressure, and reducing arterial carotid intima-media thickness (CIMT). CIMT specifically can help predict the cardiovascular health of patients with diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic conditions.18 19


10. Protects The Liver

Iranian traditional medicine uses licorice for treating chronic liver diseases.20 The antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and hepatoprotective properties of licorice make it a possible remedy for liver problems. Studies show its ability to inhibit lipid accumulation in the liver in chronic alcohol-fed test animals. This could help prevent alcoholic liver injury from progressing to alcoholic hepatitis from simple fat accumulation.21

11. Eases Mucositis, A Side Effect Of Chemotherapy And Radiation

One of the unpleasant side effects associated with chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer is an inflammation of mucous membranes of the digestive tract. Ulcers may form and the condition can be quite painful, resulting in a loss of appetite in the cancer patient. Using yashtimadhu ghrita (a licorice medicated ghee) helped reduce the intensity of this mucositis so that treatment could continue uninterrupted. It also meant that food intake could be kept up, without the effects of mucositis interfering with the patient’s appetite.22

Choose Correctly And Avoid Long-Term Or High-Dose Usage Of Licorice

The licorice referred to here is not the licorice candy you can pick up from any neighborhood grocery store or candy stand. For instance, red licorice may not even contain actual licorice extract. It may only have a licorice flavor added to it. Black licorice, while also not a medicinal food, is likely to contain some licorice extract, usually paired with anise. To get your hands on licorice or its extracts for therapeutic use, approach a trained alternative therapy practitioner.

[pullquote]Limit daily intake of licorice to 30 mg/mL of glycyrrhizic acid or 500 mg total dose.[/pullquote]

Licorice root will typically be available in powder or capsule form and must be taken only in prescribed dosages for a certain duration. The long-term intake of licorice is linked to the reduction of your body’s potassium levels and an elevated sodium level, something similar to what steroid hormone drugs known as mineralocorticoids do. The glycyrrhizin found in licorice remedies cause this effect.23 You can reduce the risk of this problem by taking licorice that is deglyccyrhizinated (without glycyrrhizin) or has low glycyrrhizin content. A rule of thumb is to limit daily intake so you consume no more than 30 mg/mL of glycyrrhizic acid or 500 mg total dose daily.

Licorice toxicity, stemming from prolonged intake in large amounts, may result in:24

  • Severe hypertension or high blood pressure which could lead to potentially life-threatening problems like heart failure, heart attacks, strokes, or kidney failure.25
  • Extremely low potassium levels (hypokalemia) which can cause weakness, fatigue, numbness, abnormal heart rhythm, and even paralysis (including stopping of the heart).26
  • Muscle weakness of all four limbs (quadriparesis)