December 11

Benefits of Licorice Root: The Sweet Harmonizer that Tonifies and Moistens

Licorice root literally means “sweet herb” in Korean (감초) and Chinese (甘草). Similarly, the origin of the word “licorice” comes from Greek physician Dioscorides, who named it γλυκόριζα (sweet root).

Licorice root has a sweet flavor and a neutral thermal property. In Traditional East Asian Medicine (TEAM), sweet herbs tonify, harmonize and moisten. Honey-frying the herb makes it sweeter and warmer to potentiate its effect of tonifying and moistening.

The herb energetically interacts with the spleen, stomach, lungs and heart. Here is how it benefits each organ:

Licorice root interacts with the spleen and stomach to tonify Qi

In TEAM, spleen’s function is transformation and transportation of Qi and fluids generated from the food that is being digested. Stomach acts as the “grain storage” that does the physical work of “ripening,” or digesting the food.

Spleen and stomach are one of the six organ pairs. Five of these organ pairs are each assigned to an element, and Earth belongs to spleen and stomach. As earth’s purpose is to nourish and fertilize all living beings, spleen and stomach mirror the elemental properties of earth to regulate digestion and delivery of newly formed nutrients, blood, and Qi throughout our cells.

Some of the signs of spleen and stomach deficiencies are shortness of breath, fatigue, sallow (yellow) facial appearance, decreased food intake, and loose stools/diarrhea.

In TEAM, the spleen dominates muscles, so those with spleen deficiency often experience muscle cramps and pain, especially in epigastric and abdominal tissues. Through its tonifying and replenishing properties, licorice root relieves pain and cramps of smooth or skeletal muscles.

Licorice root enters the heart to tonify Qi and blood

Licorice root helps with palpitations, arrythmia, and intermittent pulse. These conditions usually happen as a result of Qi and blood deficiencies of the heart.

Could it be that the person’s spleen function is also impaired, which is causing the deficiencies in the heart? That is also a possibility, as long as he/she is showing the signs of the deficient spleen.

Licorice root enters the lungs to moisten

Licorice root interacts with the lungs by moistening, nourishing Qi, dispelling phlegm, and stopping cough. Since it has a neutral thermal property, it mildly treats cough and wheezing of various causes, including cold or heat, deficiency or excess, and with or without phlegm. Particularly, it is quite effective for chronic cough due to lung deficiency.

Lungs govern the skin, and the fresh/unprocessed licorice root is used to clear heat and eliminate toxins on the skin in a form of sores, ulcers, erysipelas, lesions, and burns. It also relieves sore, swollen, and painful throat. The licorice root can be used topically or internally.

Because of its mild nature, licorice root should be combined with other herbs to treat more severe conditions.

HERB-DRUG interaction

Licroice root speeds up the metabolism of drugs such as chloral hydrate, urethane, cocaine, picrotoxin, caffeine, pilocarpine, nicotine, and barbiturates, and treats overdose of these agents.


• Sweet herbs like licorice root can create dampness in the body, so it’s contraindicated in cases of nausea, vomiting, chest and abdominal fullness and distention due to dampness accumulation.

• Large/chronic usage of licorice root is contraindicated in cases of edema, kidney disorders, hypokalemia, hypertension, and congestive heart failure.


Licorice root is a harmonizing herb that is used in decoction, powder, pills, syrup, and even as a topical. We highly recommend that you consult with a licensed oriental medicine practitioner if you think this herb fits your needs.

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