While these may look like something my daughter collected from our backyard, they’re actually pieces of licorice root. I’ve never cared for licorice-flavoured candy (does anyone out there actually eat the black jellybeans…?) but I do happen to like the taste of licorice tea. Not only does it taste great, but it’s great for your lungs too!
In fact, licorice root has several health benefits: it soothes the mucosal lining of your G.I tract (which is especially great for ulcers and colitis), relieves heartburn, helps balance stress hormones, reduces blood sugar, boosts the immune system, protects the liver, prevents cavities, and has antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-cancer properties. It’s definitely a super-herb!
Since we’re still in pandemic-mode and covid-19 appears to attack the lungs, I decided to focus on the anti-viral and respiratory benefits of licorice root for this post.
Licorice extract has been shown to have antiviral activity against many viruses including influenza and SARS, which is significant given the fact that covid-19 is similar to SARS. Licorice root extract has also been shown to inhibit SARS-CV and H5N1 virus replication in the lab. This study noted that short-term use of high doses of licorice extract proved to not only be effective in fighting viruses but it also had fewer side effects compared to other pharmaceutical drugs. Long-term use of licorice root and its extracts has been associated with side effects but short term use is considered safe. So as long as you are not consuming it daily for months you can benefit from its anti-viral properties.
Licorice is also an expectorant, which means it helps to loosen and expel mucus from your lungs. This makes it great for short-term lung problems such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Extracts of licorice root have been shown to suppress cytokines, signalling proteins secreted by the immune system that are involved in inflammation. The more severe cases of covid-19 are linked to “cytokine storms” in which the immune system overreacts to the coronavirus causing excessive inflammation in the lungs, leading to respiratory failure. Basically, it’s our own immune response to the virus, not the virus itself, that’s killing people!
That’s why the cytokine-suppressing activity of licorice root may help prevent these cytokine storms in theory (there haven’t been any studies conducted so far). While there is no evidence (yet) that licorice root helps with covid-19 symptoms, logically it would reduce the severity of respiratory symptoms since it would help stop the immune system from overreacting and aid the lungs in expelling mucus build-up, making it easier to breathe.
Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that drinking licorice root tea a few days in a row is great at getting rid of that pesky lingering post-cold cough that my daughter sometimes gets in the winter, and I’m sure many of you experience the same. You definitely don’t want to be coughing anywhere in public right now! 👀
To make your own licorice root tea, simply crush a piece of licorice root with a mortar and pestle and add to a small pot of boiling water (1-2 cups). Steep for 15 mins, strain, let cool slightly and stir in honey before drinking.
I also use licorice root in my cold-busting herbal tea recipe which adds more immune-boosting herbs to get the most out of your herbal tea.
If the idea of grinding licorice and other herbs in a mortar and pestle to make your own herbal tea sounds like too much work, you can buy licorice tea here or a licorice supplement here.
A note about DGL, a popular licorice supplement: DGL, or deglycyrrhizinated licorice, has had the anti-viral component of licorice removed (glycyrrhizin, the compound that helps fight viruses, also unfortunately happens to be the same compound that lowers potassium levels and raises blood pressure when used long term). DGL is still effective in reducing heartburn and inflammation in the GI tract and is safe to take long-term. However, to get the antiviral and respiratory benefits of licorice you need to consume the whole root, whether as a food or supplement.
As with any herbs, don’t overdo it – always use licorice root in MODERATION.
And if you’re thinking that eating loads of black licorice candy will give you the same benefits…sorry to burst your bubble, but it won’t! You’ll just end up consuming a lot of sugar and creating other issues. And who actually likes black licorice candy anyway?!
Caution: long-term excessive use of licorice can disrupt adrenal function and elevate blood pressure (especially in women) so if you are on medication to lower your blood pressure DO NOT regularly consume whole licorice!
You can stay up to do with the latest information on covid-19 here.
Cinatl J, Morgenstern B, Bauer G, Chandra P, Rabenau H, Doerr HW. Glycyrrhizin, an active component of liquorice roots, and replication of SARS-associated coronavirus. Lancet. 2003;361(9374):2045–2046. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(03)13615-x
Yang R, Wang LQ, Yuan BC, Liu Y. The Pharmacological Activities of Licorice. Planta Med. 2015;81(18):1654–1669. doi:10.1055/s-0035-1557893
Article written by Kiran Sidhu, Holistic Nutritionist. To schedule a 1-1 nutrition consultation, select “book an appointment” from the menu bar and choose the service that best fits your nutrition counselling needs.
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