This week’s herbal blog post comes to us courtesy of Jovie Belisle.
Having fallen out of popularity in its true form in mainstream culture, “Licorice” has become almost entirely associated with the polarizing anise-flavored candy. But before you make any decisions, let’s take a look at what real licorice is and why it’s so useful.
Licorice Root, Glycyrrhiza glabra and Glycyrrhiza uralensis, has a history of over two thousand years of recorded use as a potent medicinal plant for a multitude of conditions. The oldest records of its use date back to ancient Assyrian, Egyptian, Chinese, and Indian cultures. Large quantities of licorice root were even found in the tomb of King Tut (1356 to 1339 B.C.E.). Its use in Traditional Chinese Medicine dates back to 190 AD, and this was where it earned the title of “guide herb”. Here are 7 ways Licorice Root has been used as a powerful plant ally.
As a Sweetener
- The word licorice is derived from the Greek word glukurrhiza, meaning “sweet root”. Due to its glycyrrhizin content, which is thought to be 30-50 times sweeter than sugar, licorice root has long led the way as a sweetener; first in beer, then in confectionaries by the 13th century. Since modern licorice candies don’t contain the herb at all, our association with licorice flavor actually comes from the anise and fennel that is used instead.
In the Garden
- Licorice is an amazingly beneficial companion plant in the garden. As part of the legume family of plants, it is a nitrogen fixer, as well as a dynamic accumulator, guiding nutrients from deep at the tip of its roots to more shallow depths so that they are available for other plants nearby. It provides food and shelter for beneficial insects and wildlife, and helps control erosion. Licorice root can easily be grown from divisions or root cuttings planted 1 to 1-1/2 feet apart, or you can sow seeds outdoors in spring or fall. You’ll want to wait to harvest it until after 2-3 years of growth.
- Both Eastern and Western medicine have long documented reports of successfully using licorice root for its immune, liver, digestion, respiratory, antiviral, and antimicrobial benefits. Chinese medicine uses it as a “guide herb,” combining it with other herbs in a single prescription to enhance the effectiveness of the other ingredients, generally raise Qi, reduce toxicity, and improve flavor. It has a particular affinity for dry coughs and flu symptoms affecting the throat and lungs, and has been shown to be as good as codeine for unproductive coughs by helping to guide out phlegm. It also raises blood pressure and has estrogenic qualities.
- Licorice Root is associated with the planet Mercury, which rules communication & movement of thought, since Mercury was said to be the messenger of the gods. Mercury also rules the sixth house, which is the house of health. This corresponds pretty directly to licorice’s role in supporting the immune and respiratory systems, as well as its role as a guide herb if we look at the way it’s thought to command and direct other herbs that are taken in conjunction.
- It is also associated with Jupiter, in that it is used as offerings on altars or burned in religious ceremony. In ancient times, rites of passage weren’t complete without an herb from the Jupiter spectrum – that’s why licorice root was buried in tombs in ancient Egypt.
- In modern times, in its most broad capacity, licorice root is used to heighten power in spell work, guiding the other elements of the ritual to higher effect.
- When it comes to conjuring, it’s a very assertive plant. Hoodoo practitioners have used licorice in commanding, mind-altering, and control spells for generations. Both European lore as well as Hoodoo traditions believe that licorice root guides lust, love, and fidelity magick work (likely due to its estrogenic qualities and ability to raise blood pressure). Simply drinking the tea may even act as a stimulant between two lovers. Add it to love sachets that you or your beloved carry, chew on it for sexual potency, or sprinkle it in the footprints of a lover to guide them away from wandering.
While licorice root has very low toxicity, you should avoid using it internally (or even chewing on it) if you have high blood pressure or are sensitive to estrogen. Prolonged use of large amounts can cause decreased potassium levels.
About the Author: Jovie is a Green Witch hailing from the US Pacific Northwest. As owner and sole operator of The Rex Apothecary, she offers wildly effective self-care ritual goods, crafted using herbs mindfully harvested from her own property.