The Glycyrrhiza glabra plant produces licorice, which is the plant's root. This plant is native to the Mediterranean and Asia. Today, Glycyrrhiza glabra grows primarily in Greece, Turkey, and parts of Asia. A member of the pea family, the plant thrives in subtropical climates and well-drained soil. The plant requires full sun exposure as well. It can reach heights of 4 to 5 feet. The licorice plant harvests in the fall, typically two or three years after initial planting. Glycyrrhiza glabra can be identified by its oval leaves with purple, white, or blue flower clusters. The licorice root of the plant is a complex system that runs underground. The plant is best known by two names: licorice or sweet root. The latter name is apt, as the licorice root is 50 times sweeter than sugar.
The root of the plant, licorice, has a number of uses across industries. Licorice was first used by ancient civilizations, including those in Greece, Egypt, and China, to treat gastritis and upper respiratory tract infections. Licorice retains some medicinal purposes today, with both Eastern and Western medicine using the natural remedy. The root's distinct flavor makes it useful as an expectorant in cough and cold medications, meaning it effectively encourages the drainage of mucus from the lungs and trachea. As a demulcent, it serves as a soothing or coating agent, helping to relieve pain and inflammation.
Moreover, licorice root is used as a dietary supplement to treat stomach ulcers, sore throats, bronchitis, and viruses, including hepatitis. Early studies have indicated that an injectable form of licorice root can help ease symptoms of hepatitis C, although such a form is not yet available in the U.S., and further research is required. When taken for medicinal purposes, licorice root is available in several forms. The root is available dried or as a powder as well as a tablet, capsule, or liquid extract.
Licorice's sweet flavor also makes it an appealing herb to use in the food industry. It is primarily used as a flavoring agent in a number of foods as well as herbal medicines and tobacco products. As such, the Food and Drug Administration includes licorice as a direct food substance on its Generally Recognized As Safe list.
Licorice is also a useful ingredient in many beauty and personal care products. Typically, the licorice root water or licorice extract is used in such products. Licorice root has hundreds of powerful nutrients and antioxidants, making it a highly sought after ingredient in beauty products. First, licorice's anti-inflammatory properties allow it to help treat skin conditions such as rosacea, dermatitis, and psoriasis. Likewise, licorice in cosmetics can help reduce skin redness, inflammation, and flushing, helping to create a more balanced skin tone.
Licorice is also used as a flavoring agent, adding a sweet taste to cosmetic products such as lip balm and lip gloss. As an astringent, licorice can cleanse skin, leaving a tingling sensation when it is applied. It is also listed as an emollient, meaning licorice can lubricate the skin's surface, leaving it feeling soft and smooth. As a humectant, licorice can add moisture to the skin, thus helping to combat dry and damaged skin.
Licorice can also be used a natural skin brightener, making it an alternative to chemical lightening agents like hydroquinone.
Due to its multiple functions, licorice root can be found as an ingredient in many beauty and personal care products. It is used in facial cleansers, acne treatments, and moisturizers for its anti-inflammatory properties. Thanks to its antioxidant benefits, licorice is popular in anti-aging serums, primers, and eye creams as well. Masks, lip balms, and exfoliating scrubs also include licorice root as an ingredient.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel deemed licorice as a safe ingredient in cosmetic products. When ingested in large quantities, licorice can present some side effects. Too much licorice can create hormonal sensitivity that can lead to headaches, fatigue, high blood pressure, and, in extreme cases, heart attacks. Licorice can also interfere with several medications, including ACE inhibitors and diruetics. It is recommended that pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers not ingest licorice. Licorice that is used topically presents no severe side effects, thus explaining its approval by the CIR Expert Panel. Individuals who plan to ingest licorice as a dietary supplement should talk to their doctors before adding this herb to their daily regimen.