The History of Licorice
Licorice is not a recent discovery. The ancient Egyptians used it as a pharmaceutical, and copious supplies were found in King Tut’s tomb. Egyptian hieroglyphics record the use of licorice as a popular beverage among the men of the time.
Manuscripts from 360 A.D. talk of licorice helping eye ailments, skin diseases, coughs, and loss of hair. Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar are on record as endorsing the benefits of eating licorice. Since the 14th century, it has been used to soothe coughs, colds, and bronchitis.
Napoleon Bonaparte found licorice soothing during battle; he allegedly ate so much of it that his teeth turned black. (Don’t worry. The amount of licorice found in most of today’s licorice candy will not discolor your teeth.)
Modern licorice candy dates from 17th century Holland. At the time, Holland was one of the world’s most powerful countries. Her intrepid sailors spread this wonderful delicacy to other European nations. Today, licorice candy is manufactured throughout Europe, America, and Australia.
The Health Benefits of Licorice
Licorice is especially useful in fighting bronchitis, upper respiratory catarrh, and coughs. It stimulates mucus production and helps to loosen sticky phlegm. It also contains a chemical that has cough-suppressant properties.
Licorice also helps reduce stomach acid and increases mucus secretion in the gastric tract, soothing irritation and inflammation. It can be used to fight heartburn, indigestion, and gastric and duodenal ulcers. It may also shorten the healing time of mouth ulcers.
Small amounts of licorice, such as those found in candies, do not pose a risk. However, licorice is a powerful drug, and serious health problems can result from taking it at medicinal levels for long periods of time.
People who have high blood pressure, glaucoma, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, as well as anyone who is taking digitalis or who has had a stroke or heart attack should limit their licorice intake.
Quick Facts About Licorice
The licorice plant, a shrub, is officially a weed. It is about four feet tall with purplish flowers and grows in hot, dry places.
Licorice root is one of the most popular herbs in the world. Its botanical name comes from the Greek words meaning "sweet root."
The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, and Hindus recognized the natural medicinal qualities of licorice. Licorice helps relieve the pains that accompany certain types of ulcers, and it is good for the adrenal glands.
Carbenoxolone, a compound derived from licorice root, may help slow the effects of aging on the brain. Licorice root is a botanical ingredient in modern Chinese medicines used to manage cancers. Current research conducted at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, supports the use of licorice in the treatment of prostate and breast cancer.
In the United States, anise seed is a popular substitute flavoring for licorice. Although the anise seed has an unmistakable licorice flavor, it is not related to the European plant whose roots are the source of true licorice.