What Is Licorice Root?

This age-old ulcer remedy may be risky if overused

The root of the licorice plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra or Glycyrrhiza uralensis) has a long history of use in traditional Eastern and Western medicine.

A plant native to the Middle East and parts of Europe and Asia, licorice root is generally considered safe to use for various health concerns. However, consuming too much can lead to potentially severe side effects.

Some traditional healthcare providers believe in licorice root's benefits in treating eczema, bronchitis, constipation, heartburn, stomach ulcers, and menstrual cramps. Most of the benefits of licorice root are thought to be due to its most active ingredient, glycyrrhizin. However, there is not much scientific evidence to back up these claims.

This article will review some potential uses of licorice root, as well as side effects, interactions, precautions, dosage, and what to look for in licorice root supplements.

Dietary supplements are not regulated like drugs in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF. 
However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and check in about potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Supplement Facts

  • Active ingredient(s): Glycyrrhizin, glabridin, licochalcone A, licoricidin, licorisoflavan A
  • Alternate name(s): Licorice root, licorice, liquorice, sweet root, gan cao, gan zao, Chinese licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabraGlycyrrhiza uralensisGlycyrrhiza inflata.
  • Legal status: Legal and sold over the counter in the United States.
  • Suggested dose: More high-quality research is needed before a safe and generalized licorice root dose can be recommended.
  • Safety considerations: Side effects are possible when taking licorice root. Some side effects can be severe, including changes to blood pressure and/or potassium levels in the body.

Purported Uses of Licorice Root

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease. 

The research is quite limited, but some studies suggest that licorice root may offer certain health benefits.

Traditionally, licorice root has been used for digestive health issues, symptoms of menopause, cough, and certain types of infections. However, more research is needed to confirm these and other claims.

Below is a look at the science behind some of the purported uses of licorice root.

Respiratory Issues

Licorice root is believed to support and protect the respiratory system.

In a lab study, glycyrrhizin, the main active ingredient in licorice root, was found to have the potential to improve the effectiveness of bronchodilators in people with both asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Another lab study found that the glycyrrhizic acid, asiatic acid, and oleanolic acids found in licorice root have an antioxidant effect that may help protect cells in the bronchi, or passages, that lead to the lungs.

These results could mean that licorice may help slow the progression of various respiratory diseases when used along with standard treatments. However, although these results seem promising, they have not yet been duplicated in human trials. Further human research is needed to support these claims.

Licorice root capsules, powder, tincture, tea, and chewable tablets

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Functional Dyspepsia

Licorice root may help ease the pain of functional dyspepsia (FD), a disorder marked by bouts of upper abdominal discomfort.

In one study, 50 people were given either a placebo (inactive "sugar pill") or a product made from licorice root extract at a dose of 75 milligrams (mg) twice daily for 30 days. The group who took the licorice extract reported greater relief of their dyspepsia symptoms than participants in the control group.

More research is needed to before determining whether licorice root can be used as a safe and effective remedy for this condition. In the meantime, consult your healthcare provider for more evidence-backed treatment options for FD.

Menopause and Menstrual Symptoms

Licorice root may help relieve symptoms of both menstruation and menopause.

In a small study, licorice root extract was compared with ibuprofen to relieve pain in women with dysmenorrhea, or menstrual cramps. The results from the study suggested that licorice root could be used to relieve pain from menstrual cramps due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Licorice root contains phytoestrogens, plant-based compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. While there is some evidence of their benefits, it is unclear how well these compounds in licorice root will help in relieving symptoms of menopause.

One study from 2012 looked at 90 menopausal women with hot flashes. The researchers reported that the women in the study who took 330 milligrams of licorice root per day experienced decreases in both frequency and severity of hot flashes. Once the licorice root treatment stopped, hot flash symptoms were said to return. However, more research is needed.

Peptic Ulcers

The role of licorice root in treating peptic ulcer disease has gained increasing interest in the scientific community. Notably, researchers have wanted to know its effect on a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), which is the primary cause of peptic ulcers and is difficult to treat.

A 2016 study found that, along with standard antibiotic therapy, licorice root helped eliminate H. pylori 83% of the time. In the study, the group that received a placebo instead of licorice root had H. pylori elimination in 63% of cases.

However, there was just a 20% difference between the placebo plus antibiotic and antibiotic plus licorice. Still, the researchers concluded that licorice root was significantly more successful in eliminating H. pylori than the placebo.

Other Research

Licorice root has been researched for other health conditions, including:

Animal and test-tube studies have also examined licorice root's role in preventing colon cancer. Although the results were promising, the studies are preliminary, and they should not be used to provide evidence for licorice root's anticancer benefits. Human trials on this matter have yet to be performed to confirm these study results.

Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider before trying licorice root for a health condition. Supplements should never replace standard care.

What Are the Side Effects of Licorice Root?

In general, licorice root is considered safe and well-tolerated in adults.

However, side effects are possible when taking licorice root and may be more likely to occur if you take too much. Taking licorice root over a long period of time can further increase the risk of side effects. These side effects may be mild or severe.

Licorice root supplements are only intended for short-term use. Taking too much licorice root may lead to side effects.

Licorice root side effects are thought to be due to an excessive buildup of glycyrrhizin in the body. This buildup may trigger an abnormal increase in the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to a severe imbalance in the body's fluids and electrolytes.

To reduce the risk of side effects, some licorice root products have removed glycyrrhizin.

Long-term use of licorice root may cause serious side effects, like high blood pressure and low potassium levels. Because of this, it is recommended that people with heart disease, hypertension, or kidney disease avoid using licorice root.

In rare cases, licorice root use has led to other severe side effects, including neurological deficits, ischemic stroke, and preterm labor.

Stop using licorice root and seek medical attention if you experience these and other severe side effects.

Precautions

Some people should take precautions when using licorice root.

Research suggests that using licorice root while pregnant could be harmful to the fetus. Large doses of licorice root may cause preterm birth and issues with growth later on in life.

It is unknown if licorice root is safe to use for people who are breastfeeding. Therefore, you should avoid using licorice root if breastfeeding.

Licorice root may be safe for children to use, but in smaller amounts than adults. Your child's healthcare provider should be consulted regarding dosage and safety.

People with hypertension, low potassium, edema, and kidney or liver problems should avoid using licorice root. This is because licorice root has been linked to side effects that could worsen these conditions.

Dosage: How Much Licorice Root Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs. 

Due to a lack of research, there are no universal guidelines for licorice root dosage. It's best to follow dosage guidelines from the supplement manufacturer or your healthcare provider.

Previous studies have estimated that a dose of 1 to 5 grams (g) of licorice root daily is safe for most adults.

However, taking too much licorice root may cause side effects. A dose of 800 milligrams (mg) or more of licorice root per day has been linked to low potassium levels.

Generally, you should always stay within the recommended dosage on the product label. You should also not take licorice root supplements for an extended period.

Talk with your healthcare provider about the right licorice root dose for you.

What Happens If I Take Too Much Licorice Root?

If you take more licorice root than you should, then you may be more likely to experience side effects.

Taking licorice root for long periods or in doses that are too high may cause toxicity or adverse effects. Although licorice root toxicity has been reported in small numbers, it is still a very real possibility.

Glycyrrhizin, the most active ingredient in licorice root, has been classified as moderately toxic by some researchers. This is mostly due to its ability to cause high blood pressure and low potassium.

To best prevent toxicity or adverse events from taking licorice root, never take more than recommended.

Interactions

Licorice root may interact with a number of medications. These interactions may lower how well certain medications work.

Licorice root may disrupt the breakdown of several medications due to interacting with cytochrome P450 enzymes in the liver. These enzymes are needed to metabolize several popular medications, including but not limited to:

Interactions have also been found between licorice root and digoxin, a medication commonly used for heart arrhythmias.

Besides digoxin, these interactions have mostly been seen in lab settings and are theoretical. Regardless, you should let your healthcare provider know about any medications you are taking before starting licorice root.

It is essential to carefully read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel of a new supplement to know which ingredients are included. Please review this supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss any potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications you may be taking. 

How to Store Licorice Root

Store licorice root supplements properly according to the instructions on the packaging to prevent spoiling and increase their shelf-life.

Generally, you should keep licorice root in a cool, dry spot out of direct sunlight. Typically, you do not need to refrigerate licorice root extract but follow storage directions on the product packaging.

Keep licorice root supplements out of reach of small children and pets to prevent accidental consumption.

Throw away licorice root supplements once they have reached their expiration date.

Similar Supplements

Other supplements on the market may work similarly to licorice root. These similar supplements include:

  • Curcumin: Curcumin, an active ingredient in turmeric, may have the potential to be used to treat respiratory issues like bronchial asthma. In one small human trial, people receiving standard care plus 500 milligrams per day of curcumin for bronchial asthma had significantly improved airway obstruction compared to those receiving standard care alone.
  • Peppermint oil: Peppermint oil is a popular complementary treatment for several digestive disorders, including functional dyspepsia (FD). It has been studied for use in FD either alone or in combination with other supplements, mostly caraway oil.
  • Ginger: Ginger may be a useful herb during menstruation. It is thought to contain anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce menstrual cramps. In one study on college students, ginger was found to be more effective as an alternative therapy for relieving menstrual cramp pain compared with vitamin E and vitamin D.
  • Black Cohosh: Many people going through menopause use black cohosh with the hope that it will reduce hot flashes. One study performed on postmenopausal women found that black cohosh did a better job of reducing the number and severity of hot flashes than primrose oil.

Typically, it is recommended that you avoid using more than one supplement for the same health concern at a time. Talk with your healthcare provider about which supplement is best for you.

Supplements should never replace standard medical care. It is important to consult a healthcare provider if you are not feeling well or dealing with a potential health condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much licorice root is too much?

    Due to insufficient evidence, there is no standardized dose for licorice root.

    In general, consuming licorice root over an extended period or taking doses that are too large can cause serious health issues like increased blood pressure and decreased potassium levels.

    Check with your healthcare provider before taking licorice root, particularly if you have a condition like high blood pressure or heart or kidney disease.

  • Does licorice root interact with medications?

    Licorice root may interact with several common medications based on how it works in the body. Licorice root may disrupt the breakdown of several medications due to interacting with cytochrome P450 enzymes in the liver. These enzymes are needed to metabolize several popular medications.

    Be sure to let your healthcare provider know if you plan on starting licorice root and review any potential interactions with medications you're on.

  • Is licorice root safe during pregnancy?

    Licorice root is not thought to be safe during pregnancy. Taking a lot of licorice root during pregnancy has been linked to premature birth and health problems in children in later years.

    To be safe, avoid using licorice root during pregnancy.

Sources of Licorice Root & What to Look For

Regarding the use of licorice root for its potential benefits, supplements may be best. This is because licorice root is not commonly found in foods, at least not in amounts as high as you may need.

Food Sources of Licorice Root

You've probably heard of licorice candy, but it's not the same as licorice root supplements.

Unlike licorice root supplements, licorice candy contains extra ingredients like sugar, starch, and various binders.

You may find licorice root in other foods like toffee bars, blackcurrant, and chewing gum.

Moreover, studies examining the potential health benefits of licorice root have looked at its use in various supplement forms.

Licorice Root Supplements

Licorice root supplements come in many forms that you can find online or in many health food stores.

Supplement forms of licorice root include:

  • Chewable tablets
  • Capsules
  • Extracts
  • Teas
  • Lozenges
  • Tinctures
  • Powders

Licorice root is also sometimes added to topical treatments.

As a dietary supplement, licorice root products are not required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to undergo the rigorous testing that pharmaceutical drugs do.

Due to this lack of control, quality can vary widely from one brand of licorice root to the next. To ensure quality and safety, look for brands that have been certified by an independent body, such as the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International.

For best results, talk with your healthcare provider before using any licorice root product.

Summary

Licorice root has been used throughout traditional and modern medicine, with very little scientific support regarding health uses. Much remains unknown about licorice root's effects, but it is generally considered safe to use in appropriate amounts.

It's important to follow dosage guidelines when taking licorice root, and some people should take extra precautions. Please talk with your healthcare provider before starting licorice root to ensure it's right for you.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brittany Lubeck, RD
Brittany Lubeck, RD, is a nutrition writer and registered dietitian with a master's degree in clinical nutrition. 

Originally written by Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.

Learn about our editorial process