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Herbal Monograph 

Herb:  Chinese Licorice Root   (Glycyrrhiza uralensis)

Other Names: Kan-tsao, gan cao, G. glandulifera, G. echinate   (21)

Character/Energetics: very sweet,  neutral,  moist   (15);   sweet flavor; neutral property  (21) 

disagreeably sweet and slightly mucilaginous   (47)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected: spleen, stomach  (15); Enters all twelve meridians, though it is especially beneficial to the spleen, stomach, kidney and lung  (20);  the twelve channels, supplements spleen, harmonizes the stomach and spleen (21); endocrine system,  liver  (22)

Parts used:   root  (15) ;  roots, twigs and efflorescence  (47)       

Identification & Harvesting: A perennial herb, the stem erect, pubescent. Leaves alternate, pinnate; leaflets oboval, obtuse, nearly glabrous; stipules lanceolate. Inflorescence an axillary cluster. Flowers purplish, papilionaceous; calyx villous. Fruit a flat pod. Northern China, Mongolia, Siberia.  

The root is officinal. It occurs as cylindrical, fibrous pieces, flexible, 20-22 cm. Long by 15 mm. In diameter, with or without epidermis; epidermis reddish, furrowed, interior light yellow.   (19)

The most common species that supply the Chinese licorice root are Glycyrrhiza echinata and Glycyrrhiza glabra, both of which are found growing plentifully in northern China.  (47)

Active constituents: Saponins, glycosides (inc. glycyrrhizin), estrogenic substances, coumarins, flavonoids, sterols, choline, asparagine, volatile oil    (15)

The taste is sweet. The drug contains salts of the glycoside glycyrrhizic acid (glycyrrhizin; C42H62O16 platelets, prisms; intensely sweet: decomposes at 220 degrees; freely soluble in hot water; insoluble in absolute alcohol, ether), asparagin, sugars, resin, urease. Glycyrrhizic acid upon hydrolysis yields 2 molecules of glucoronic acid and one of  glycyrrhetinic acid: both glycyrrhizic acid and glycyrrhetinic acid appear to have certain of the physiological actions of desoxycorticosterone, with increase in retention of sodium ions and water, and potassium ion excretion.      (19)

Saponins -14%: The main constituent is glycyrrhizin (which is about 50 times sweeter than sugar), which upon hydrolysis yields glycyrrhetic acid and glucuronic acid. Other crude saponins yield glabric acid, gabrolide, and 28-hydroxyglycyrrhetic acid upon hydrolysis; (2) flavonoids: liquiritin 

(its agylcone is liquiritigenin), isoliquiritin (its aglycone is isoliquiritigenin), licoflavone, licoricone, 2-methyl-7-hydroxyisoflavone, licoricidin; (3) amino acids, glucoses, sucroses, mannitol, asparanic acids, glycyrols, isogycyrols.  (21)


      Anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, tonic stimulant for adrenal cortex, lowers blood cholesterol, soothes gastric mucous membranes, possibly anti-allergenic, cooling, expectorant…anti-spasmodic. (15) ; Licorice is demulcent, increasing the flow of saliva. and mucus, the increased secretion acting as emollient to the throat; in sufficient doses it is mildly laxative; demulcent, expectorant (19);  Supplements spleen, replenishes ch’i, clears heat removes toxin, moistens lungs, controls cough, harmonizes the stomach and spleen, harmonizes all drugs; detoxifying effect, antispasmodic, inhibits gastric secretions caused by histamine, anti-inflammatory, antitussive, expectorant, anti-allergic, and immune system-suppressing   (21);  Expectorant, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, adrenal agent, antispasmodic, milk laxative, alterative, antibacterial, antimicrobial, antitoxic, tonic, pectoral. (22); Tonic, alexipharmic, alterative, and expectorant  (47)

Conditions and Uses: Chinese Licorice root is an energy tonic, particularly for the spleen and stomach. The root is added to many Chinese formulas to balance other herbs. It is also used for asthmatic coughs, as an antispasmodic and ulcer remedy, and to cool “hot” conditions. Dried root can be chewed like candy and in China is given to children to promote muscle growth.    

Gastritis & ulceration/anti-inflammatory; produces a viscous mucus, which coats and protects the stomach wall and limits acid production/take a decoction or suck juice sticks; use a tincture or fluid extract in very hot water allowed to cool/in severe cases can add extra soothing and healing herbs, such as 10-21 drops marshmallow or slippery elm, or add anti-inflammatories like pot marigold or meadowsweet . (15)

Used as demulcent and expectorant in pharyngeal irritation, cough, and as emollient in peptic ulcer.    (19)           

Sore throat, carbuncle, toxic swelling, toxicosis in fetuses and children, diarrhea due to spleen deficiency, thirst due to stomach deficiency, cough due to dry lungs, palpitation; detoxifying effect; treats low blood pressure, Addison’s disease, ulcers  (21)

In China, licorice root has been called “The Great Detoxifier.” It acts on the endocrine system and the liver as an anti-hepatoxic effective in treating hepatitis and cirrhosis…as an expectorant useful in coughs and bronchitis…stimulates the production of interferon, that critical chemical in the immune system that could be the key to preventing and treating many immune response deficiency diseases…inhibits the growth of certain tumors…possesses estrogenic activity, and is said to be beneficial as a uterine tonic and to induce normal ovulation. This herb is also included in the Hoxsey formula.  (22)

It is used to allay thirst, feverishness, pain, cough, and distressful breathing…specially prescribed for children….(Externally it is applied) locally, mixed with honey, to burns, boils, and other sores  (47)

CHINESE LICORICE ROOT  (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Conditions and Uses (cont)

Combinations:  Gan cao, or licorice root, is the Harmonizer, melding formulas together….

            in severe cases can add extra soothing and healing herbs, such as 10-21 drops marshmallow or slippery elm, or add anti-inflammatories like pot marigold or meadowsweet .  (15)

Dosage & Applications: Decoction: Combine with ginseng as a daily tonic drink

Tonic Wine: Macerate a piece of root in gin or vodka for a few weeks to produce a tonic wine: drink in small doses after meals  (15)

        3-10 gm.   (19) ;    3 to 6 g.  (21)

Externally it is applied locally, mixed with honey, to burns, boils, and other sores  (47)

Precautions: Re: Western Licorice–Can raise blood pressure, lower potassium, and interfere with the action of some medications used to control hypertension  (1)

Avoid with high blood pressure or if taking digoxin-based drugs.  (15)

Incompatible with polygala tenuifolia, Euphorbia pekinensis, E. Sieboldiana, Daphne genkwa (19) 

Excessive and prolonged use of licorice root can cause sodium retention and potassium depletion. Potassium supplementation (75-100 mg daily) prevents this problem. Not recommended if nursing or pregnant  (22)

Tincturing Process:  18-65 % alcohol  (10);  50% alcohol   (11);  30-60% alcohol  (46)

Vita Mix:  Ratio 1 gr herb: 3.406 ml alcohol.

Fill gar tsao slices just above blades in container. Process 90  seconds forward and 45 seconds reverse (minimum)   (1)

Divination: IX The Hermit

Licorice is called the peacemaker herb because it calms the mind. It is a demulcent, a          tonic, an anti-poison, an aperient, and it is useful for ulcers, indigestion and food poisoning. (h, ruled by e)

Symbolically used for: Difficulty feeling at peace with oneself. Quarrelsomeness.            Nervousness. Irritability. Licorice is not one who has a            tendency toward fluid retention and high blood pressure.

Divinatory Meanings: A light bearer to others. Enlightenment. Teaching by example.           Inner attainment. Humility.

Reverse Meanings: Hiding. Holding back oneself from others. Self-delusion.                    False humility. Darkness and withdrawal. (52)

General Notes:   Licorice has been used medicinally since at least 500 B.C. and still features in official pharmacopoeia as a “drug” for stomach ulcers. G. glabra originates in the Mediterranean and the Middle East and has been cultivated in Europe since at least the 16th century. In China, G. uralensis or gan cao is used; it is called the “great detoxifier” and is thought to drive poisons from the system. It is also an important tonic, often called “the grandfather of herbs.”    (15)

Chinese licorice root is a very different herb from the western variety of licorice, Glycyrrhizae glabra. The Western variety can cause nervousness, an undesirable side-effect. To the contrary, Chinese licorice, Glycyrrhizae uralensis, is energizing but calming, and does not have the side-effects associated with Western licorice. Be sure to use Chinese licorice root.    (20)

Licorice is one of the most commonly used herbs, and is classified as a superior herb in Shen nung pen tsao ching. Its flavor is sweet, hence its name. Kan-tsao has been used as a medicinal herb for a very long time and was known to the ancient Greek Theophrastus (372-287 B.C.)

It has many sources, the common ones being the dried roots of Glycyrrhiza uralensis, G. glandulifera, G. echinate and G. glabra  (21)

(Chinese Licorice) stands next to ginseng in importance in Chinese pharmacy, being the great corrective adjunct and harmonizing ingredient in a large number of recipes. Like most celebrated Chinese drugs, it is credited with the property of rejuvenating those who consume it for a long time.  (47)



(1) Cayuga Botanicals Research Data (“Chinese Licorice” file Source: Tufts U. Health & Nutrition Letter 3.98

(10) Herbal Preparations and Natural Therapies by Debra Nuzzi St. Claire, M.H., pg. 128

(11) Herbal Materia Medica (5th edition) by Michael Moore, pg. 15

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 16, 65

(19) Chinese Herbs  by John D. Keys,  pg. 120

(20) Chinese Tonic Herbs by Ron Teeguarden, pg. 90

(21) Oriental Materia Medica  by Hong-yen Hsu, Ph.D. and associates, pgs. 532-534

(22) Herbs and Herbal Formulas (booklet) by Mark Hershiser, pg. 12

(46) Gifts of the Earth: The Healing Way of Herbal Medicine by Tieraona, pg. 36

(47) Chinese Medicinal Herbs compiled by Li  Shih-Chen, pg. 196

(52) The Herbal Tarot Deck (Created by Michael Tierra and Designed by Candis Cantin)