Liquorice, or licorice, is a sweet flavouring that is extracted from the root of the plant Glycyrrhiza glabra. The liquorice plant is a legume related to beans and peas. The flavour of liquorice comes mainly from a sweet-tasting compound called anethole, an aromatic, unsaturated ether compound also found in anise, fennel, and several other herbs. Much of the sweetness in liquorice comes from glycyrrhizin, a compound sweeter than sugar. The medicinal use of liquorice in both eastern and western cultures dates back several thousand years.
Liquorice is native to southern Europe and parts of Asia. Liquorice grows best in deep valleys, well-drained soils, with full sun, and is harvested in the autumn, two to three years after planting.
Liquorice is popular in Italy and Spain in its natural form where the root of the plant is simply dug up, washed and chewed as a mouth freshener.
The anti-inflammatory property of liquorice works by antagonising or counteracting the negative effects of cortisol. Negative aspects of cortisol activity include hepatic cholesterol synthesis, thymus atrophy, and adrenal atrophy (shrinkage). This cortisol-like effect relates to its ability to inhibit phospholipase A2. This enzyme clears lipids from cellular membranes, thus beginning the manufacture of inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes.
With regard to oestrogen balancing, it appears Glycyrrhetinic acid antagonises many of the effects of oestrogens, particularly those from external sources. Glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetinic acid induce interferon, the body’s natural anti-viral compound. Glycyrrhizin inhibits the growth of several DNA and RNA viruses, namely, vacinia, herpes simplex, vesicular and stomatis viruses.
Many forms of liquorice available in health stores are the ‘de-glycyrrhizinated’ form. From the health benefits listed, it is clear that the glycyrrhetinic acid does have a key role to play in supporting health and immunity.
Boiling is used to extract the liquorice and therefore cooking does not have an impact on the properties of the root.