Licorice (Gan Cao)

Botanical Name: Western – Glycyrrhiza glabra, Pacific West (California) – G. lepidota. Eastern – G. uralensis.

 Licorice is a wonderful tonic herb used in many remedies for its flavor-enhancing qualities and antimicrobial effects. It also helps to strengthen and support the lungs.

Watch a short video, from Ann Christensen, Founder and Creator of White Rabbit Institute of Healing™ – Why Licorice?

Below is an overview of licorice, combining the best of Western Science, Oriental Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore, and a wide range of healing modalities. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of licorice.

How to take FULL advantage of licorice's healing powers...

Licorice (Gan Cao)

JOIN ME in an exploration of the healing herb, Licorice (Gan Cao). Explore the benefits and applications of Licorice, from Eastern and Western perspectives, and so much more!


Western Name: Licorice

Also Known As: Liquorice, Sweet Root

Organs/Systems: Respiratory, Balance Blood, Immune, and Builds Strength

Key Actions: Antimicrobial, Anti-inflammatory, Laxative, Antidiabetic, Antitumor, Anti-ulcer, Immune Enhancer, Demulcent.

Medicinal Uses: Sore throats, menstrual cramps, weak post-illness, helps lower high levels of fat in the bloodstream. Reduces blood sugar levels, mouthwash promotes menses, relieves pain, improves appetite, diabetes, cancer, and tumors, calming, stomach ulcers, and protects the liver, constipation, psoriasis, eczema, and acne.


Pin Yin: Gan Cao

Also Known As: Grandfather of Herbs, Great Adjunct, Great Detoxifier, Sweet Grass

Meridians:  All 12 meridians (one of the few herbs that have this attribute); especially Supports the Spleen, Stomach, Lung, Kidney, and Heart

Key Actions: Tonifies Qi, Tonifies the Spleen, Clears Heat, Relieves Toxicity, Moistens the Lungs, Stops Cough, Guide Herb.

Medicinal Uses: Shortness of breath, weak pulse and/or palpitations, sore throat, bronchitis, food poisoning, respiratory infections, colds and flu, cough, wheezing, stomach aches, constipation, stomach ulcers, builds strength, stimulate appetite, improve concentration, cleanse Qi and Blood, diabetes, lower blood lipid levels, support adrenal glands, cancer, tumors, anxiety, hepatic injuries, irritated skin rashes, carbuncles, and sores. Antidote to toxic substances both internally and externally. Very good at balancing blood sugar levels. Quenches thirst. Key Guide Herb. Promotes longevity.

Basic Habitat / Botany:

Licorice is a herbaceous perennial plant in the bean family Fabaceae. It is a legume. (NOT related to anise, star anise, or fennel). The flowers are long; purple to pale whitish blue and its roots are stoloniferous.

Native to southern Europe, central Russia, India, and parts of Asia. It is typically harvested in the Autumn two to three years after planting. It is now grown in China, inner Mongolia, Gansu, Xinjiang, and northeastern China.

Parts Most Frequently Used: Root, Rhizome​

Flavors / Temps: Sweet, Neutral, Slightly Bitter (Pacific species can be very bitter)

Caution: Very low toxicity, it is considered safe when used as recommended. Inappropriately high doses of licorice can cause a drop in potassium levels, leading to muscle weakness and heart rate irregularity issues.

Key Constituents: Glycyrrhizin, triterpenoids, liquiritigenin, isoliquiritigenin, liquiritin, calcium, magnesium, flavonoids, steroid hormones, starch, saccharose, glucose, coumarins, choline, progesterone-related substances.

History / Folklore:  In the West, licorice root is often thought of as a candy flavoring agent. In the East, it is respected as a tonifying and important herb for guiding other herbs into the parts of the body needing healing. While it is used in herbal formulas and some candy recipes for its sweetening flavor, most typically what you are eating and tasting when a candy or beverage says “licorice” is the herb anise (LINK), which has a very similar flavor to licorice, though it is less sweet. Licorice root is very popular in Europe as a candy, with salt added to it in Scandinavia. In Italy, people enjoy it in its natural root form, while in Spain and Syria, it is a popular drink. It is the most widely used herb in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and is second only to Ginseng (LINK) in importance. Licorice is traditionally used to treat digestive disorders, and respiratory infections, support the adrenal glands, and endocrine system, and boost the immune system. 

Early Egyptians used licorice root as a cure-all. Roots were found in King Tut’s 3,000-year-old tomb, attesting to the herbs’ value in ancient Egypt. It was later imported to China where it became a fundamental medicinal herb used in many healing formulas and revered for its ability to counter toxins, improve the immune system, and act as a guide herb leading other herbs through the whole body.

The ancient Hindus made a tonic-milk using licorice root to increase vitality and the Chinese have long used the herb as a longevity herb that can help slow the signs of aging and keep a person strong and healthy.

European tradition holds that the roots are so nutritious and thirst-quenching that just a small piece held under the tongue could keep a person alive for 10 to 12 days.

Licorice is known to contain 20 triterpenoids and almost 300 flavonoids, compounds known to have powerful antioxidant, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. 

The compound glycyrrhizin, found in licorice root, can cause potassium levels to temporarily drop leading to abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, swelling, and lethargy. In extreme cases, or if inappropriately high doses are used, it can lead to heart failure in some people. Licorice root is also available in forms that eliminate the compound called DGL licorice (deglycyrrhizinated licorice). This form is safer for taking over longer periods of time if needed. 

The name licorice is derived from the old French and Greek words that translate to “sweet root.” Traditionally, it has been used as a medicine in Ayurveda for rejuvenation. In Sanskrit, it is called “Yastimadhu.”.

Many so-called “licorice” products in the U.S. do not actually contain licorice, but anise (LINK) which has the smell and taste of what is commonly called “black licorice.” 

According to a study published in the Journal of Reproductive Toxicology, the compound isoliquiritigenin, found in licorice, reduces the expression of genes related to the production of sex hormones and the decrease of estrogen production.

Licorice root is commonly used in TCM as a “guide herb.” Guide herbs help direct herbs to the area of the body and health most needing healing. Licorice is considered unique in TCM as one of the very few herbs that can enter all twelve of the energetic Meridian systems allowing it to guide herbs through the entire Bodily system. It is considered to help Invigorate Qi, Reduce Toxicity, and Support the digestive and respiratory systems.

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Did you know?

50x Sweeter Than Sugar

Glycyrrhizin, found in licorice, is known to be 50 times sweeter than sugar with powerful cortisone-like effects that are almost identical to adrenal steroids.



Chinese studies reveal licorice can help eliminate or neutralize 1,200 known toxins.

Fun fact!

Tobacco Additive

Most tobaccos use licorice as an additive flavor and a moistening agent.

Take FULL advantage of Licorice (Gan Cao)!

Connecting Eastern and Western perspectives on HOW and WHY this herb works. Find out how to safely and effectively use this healing herb for treating conditions and for your Body, Mind, and Spirit. Find True Health. Explore uses, safety information, benefits, history, recipes, gardening tips, essential oil information, if it applies, and much, much more in this online course.

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ATTENTION: All material provided on this website is for informational or educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice of your healthcare professional or physician. Redistribution permitted with attribution. Be Healthy. Be Happy. Be Whole. Be Free.

ATENCIÓN: Todo el material proporcionado en este sitio web es sólo con fines informativos o educativos. No es sustituto del consejo de su profesional de la salud o médico. Esté sano. Sea feliz. Siéntase completo. Sea libre.

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