"Natural Healing with Herbs for a Healthier You"

Licorice Root is one of those herbs that has been around since ancient times. It was found in great quantities in the tomb of King Tut among his gold, jewelry and art treasures. It was presumed that King Tut wanted to take the root with him on his journey to the next world so that he could make his sweet drink “Mai sus” when he got there. To the Egyptians the sweet tasting Licorice root was a cure-all, much in the same manner that Chinese relate to Ginseng. Remarkably the licorice root was extremely well preserved when it was found by archaeologists, this may be due in part by the unusual preservation qualities the shape of the pyramid has.

Licorice root was used in other areas of the ancient world, the Brahmans of India, the Hindus, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians and Chinese. The ancient Hindus believed it would increase sexual vigor when prepared as a beverage with milk and sugar. The Scythians taught the use of the herb to the Greeks; Theophrastus called it Scythian root, writing in the third century B.C. The Scythians were able to go twelve days without drinking water because they chewed on Licorice root and ate mare’s cheese. He also said it was good for coughs and all pectoral diseases. In about 80 AD, Pliny recommended Licorice root to clear the voice and to alleviate thirst and hunger.

Dioscorides, an herbal physician, gave the plant its botanical name (Greek glukos = sweet, riza = root). Dioscorides traveled with the army of Alexander the Great, he told the troops to carry and chew Licorice root in order to allay their thirst when water was scarce and to give them stamina and endurance during their long marches. He also said that it was good for stomach trouble, throat trouble and liver and kidney disorders. It is not known if they had the same trouble that was reported by Napoleon in France; he habitually chewed Licorice root, which eventually blackened his teeth.

During the Middle Ages, Licorice was often taken to alleviate the bad effects of highly spiced and overcooked food, fat and often-contaminated meats, as refrigeration was impossible and most meats were preserved by salting and by packing with aromatic herbs and spices. During this time Licorice extract was said to be equal to that of “grains of paradise”, it is not know what that is but it sounds of importance to be documented. To back up the value of licorice, it was reported that a tax was placed on licorice imports to aid in repairing the London Bridge during the reign of Edward I in 1305. About the middle of the fifteenth century, Licorice was named among the wares kept by the Italian apothecaries and it is enumerated in the list of drugs of the City of Frankfurt, written about the year 1450. It was not only important medicinally, but was used as a flavoring agent in sweets and tobacco, and as a foaming agent in fire extinguishers and beers, and used in isolated millboard.

Licorice is imported chiefly from Spain and Italy, the warmer more temperate countries, but cultivation has existed on a small scale in England. Dominican friars introduced licorice to England by bringing it to Yorkshire Dales around the 15th century, where it became famous as an ingredient in Pontefract cakes.  In Turner’s herbal we learn that the planting and growing of licorice in England began about the first year of Queen Elizabeth, which was in 1558. Culpepper stated, “It is planted in fields and gardens, in divers places of this land and therefore good profit is made.”  In the 1800’s Culpepper included information about Licorice in his famous herbal writings. Southern Europeans drank large amounts of Licorice water (tea) because they believed it to be a blood purifier.

It was the English who introduced the herb to the American Indians, which is strange because it was usually the other way around. John Josselyn of Boston in the sixteenth century lists Licorice as one of the “precious herbs” he brought over from England. He would brew a beer for the Indians when they had a bad cold. It was strongly flavored with elecampane, Licorice, aniseed, sassafras and fennel.

Licorice is official in all pharmacopoeias, which only differ as to which variety is recognized, the botanical name, and whether the accepted root be peeled or unpeeled.

If we look at the use of licorice from a western perspective, we see that its use has changed little over 3,000 years.
It is considered demulcent (soothing to irritated membranes), expectorant (loosening and helping to expel congestion in the upper respiratory tract), and stimulates mucous secretions of the trachea. Other well-documented activities include significant anti-inflammatory effects, a protectant effect on the liver against toxic substances and anti-allergic activity.
[Table of Contents] [History] [Location] [Chemical Constituents] [Medicinal Qualities] [Contra-Indications]
[Known Herbal Formulas] [Dosages & Applications] [Personal Experience] [Bibliography]
by Mishelle Knuteson
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