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Licorice is the name of the plant extract obtained by boiling the underground stem of the homonymous plant (Glycyrrhiza glabra L., 1758) of the Fabaceae family.

Origins and History –
Licorice is a plant known by humanity since ancient times.
The name licorice derives from two Greek words: “glykys” which means sweet and “rhiza” which stands for root.
It was already an important plant in ancient Egypt, Assyria and China, and was already known in ancient Greek medicine, although only in the fifteenth century was it introduced by Dominican friars to Europe. As shown by the first Chinese herbarium, licorice has been used in Asia for about 5,000 years and is one of the most important plants. Chinese doctors prescribe it to treat cough, liver disease and food poisoning.
The mythological Chinese emperor Shennong, the “Divine Peasant”, father of Chinese medicine, would be the author of the first herbarium in history, the legendary Pen Ts’ao Jing. One thing is certain: in all versions that have survived to the present day, licorice always appears alongside rhubarb and cinnamon.
In the Arab world, an ancient preparation of licorice extract diluted in water, called sūs (in Arabic: ﺳﻮﺱ), is extremely popular. The vendors of the drink wear a multicolored dress, with a predominant red color, of a particular shape, with a broad sombrero-shaped headdress, with small rattles hanging from the edge of the brim. In Egypt the appeal to potential customers is: «ʿerq sūs, yā ḥarranīn (licorice, or hot)».
As mentioned, the Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations were also aware of the beneficial properties of licorice. Licorice sticks were found in Tutankamon’s funeral kit, while the Greek Theophrastus, philosopher and botanist of the 4th century BC, called it “Scythian root”, since the nomadic Asian population made extensive use of it to quench thirst during long wanderings : if combined with mare’s milk, in fact, it could even be miraculous, allowing a man not to drink for at least 10 days.
From the arrival in Europe, thanks to the Dominican friars, it was introduced to Abruzzo and Calabria where the plant grew spontaneously, favored by the clay soil. Here the friars had devised a procedure that required, as usual, a great deal of patience: they left the roots to dry for four years, after which they cut off the upper part, and then began to extract the juice, which for its therapeutic properties was called simply “Medicamentum”.
Licorice was used by Napoleon to calm stomach pains before battles and in French hospitals it was combined with barley and wheatgrass to prepare healthy herbal teas.
Calabria boasts a centenary tradition in the production of licorice and is the largest producer, followed by Abruzzo, where the plant has been worked since Roman times, especially in Atri and surroundings.
The beneficial effects of this root made it for a long time an exclusive and rather expensive product from pharmacies. In Italy it was only after 1930 that licorice found its place in the confectionery market in the form of a tablet that can be purchased in pastries or tobacconists (for the anti-inflammatory properties useful to the throats of smokers).
The essence of licorice is used (together with cocoa) as an additive for the production of cigarettes.
A little curiosity in conclusion: one of the least known properties of licorice root is its aphrodisiac effect. It is also mentioned in the Kamasutra and it is said that it was Casanova’s favorite refreshment.

Description –
Licorice is a plant native to Southwest Asia and the Mediterranean region. It is a rustic perennial herb species, i.e. frost-resistant, which grows mainly in southern Europe in calcareous and / or clayey soils. The plant develops a large rhizome from which stolons and roots extend, up to two meters long. Liquorice uses the underground stems of three to four year old plants, collected during the autumn season and dried.

Active principles –
The active principles of licorice are mainly triterpene compounds and their derivatives, especially glycyrrhizin, flavonoids, phytosterols, saponins, mannite, starches and vitamins.
The most important active ingredient of licorice is however glycyrrhizin which gives it an anti-inflammatory and antiviral action. It is also sweeter than sucrose.
On average 100 g of licorice contain 375 kcal, in addition to Protein 0 g, Carbohydrates 93.55 g, Sugar 70 g, Fat 0.05 g, Fiber 0.2 g, Sodium 50 mg and Potassium 37 mg.

Properties and Uses –
Licorice is used in herbal medicine and in Chinese medicine, in the kitchen for the preparation of sweets, candies and herbal teas and finally it is used as an additive for cigarettes together with cocoa.
Popular tradition attributes various pharmacological properties to the licorice root.
Licorice is digestive, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant and protective of the gastric mucosa. Indicated against cough, sore throat, phlegm, cervical and gastric acidity, it also exerts a mild laxative function.
The virtue that made liquorice famous in the past was the thirst quencher: the Scythians (nomadic population of Iranian origin) who fed only goat and licorice cheeses, walked for hours in the desert without suffering from thirst thanks to the refreshing action of this precious root.
Those suffering from low blood pressure can benefit from licorice as it increases blood pressure, but for the same reason it should be consumed sparingly.
The leaves with healing, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties should be used fresh. Antiulcer, emollient, refreshing, expectorant, stimulating and anti-inflammatory cortic.
Hippocrates advised her against coughing.
Modern research tries to take advantage of this for new therapeutic perspectives: ulcer therapy, chronic liver diseases, and prevention of serious autoimmune diseases.
Costello and Lynn in 1950 isolated a steroid compound in the licorice that harmonizes hormonal secretion, inhibiting the excessive production of estrogen. It has an estrogenic hormonal effect.
Liquorice, however, should be taken occasionally, taking care not to exceed the dosage of 2mg / kg per day of glycyrrhizin (which can happen by taking licorice candies or laxatives rich in extracts of liquorice concentrates).
Glycyrrhizin has side effects on the balance of mineral salts in the body; an abuse of licorice, therefore, can cause water retention, increased pressure, up to hypertension (through reabsorption of sodium, and greater excretion of potassium), swelling of the face and ankles, headache and asthenia. Therefore people predisposed to hypertension, edema, diabetics, pregnant or breastfeeding women, must avoid prolonged use of extracts of this plant.
Researchers from the University of Bologna, led by Giorgio Cantelli Forti, however, clarified and deepened the knowledge on the extract of Glycyrrhiza glabra, showing that the increase in pressure is only following the consumption of candies and sweets in which it is contained glycyrrhizin alone, which is one of the components of licorice, but not if it is consumed in its entirety.
During pregnancy, some quantities of “stress hormone” can pass from the pregnant woman to the unborn child, potentially harmful to the development of the fetus, because glycyrrhizin, which causes an increase in pressure, seems to reduce the filtering capacity represented by the placenta ( in women who took more than 100 g of pure licorice per week, equivalent to 500 mg of glycyrrhizin).
As a second effect, cortisol remains in greater quantities because glycyrrhine (as well as naringerin in grapefruit) inhibits an enzyme in the kidney which is necessary for its degradation into cortisone. The presence of this enzyme allows the normal function of aldosterone and in maintaining the normal concentrations of salt and water in the body. Glycyrrhetinic acid by blocking this enzyme is able to produce hypertension due to the direct action of cortisol in the kidney on the metabolism of salts and water.
In general, however, licorice may not be indicated for some subjects sensitive to the active ingredient, especially if administered to children, to people over 55 years of age and to subjects who take doses higher than those recommended and for long periods of time.
Interactions have been highlighted with some drugs such as diuretics and laxatives (it can increase the loss of potassium), cortisone (it increases its anti-inflammatory effects).
In Italy licorice is grown in Lucania, Sicily and Calabria, which still produces 70% of it.
The Licorice of Calabria PDO Radice Fresca is straw yellow in color and has a sweet, aromatic, intense and persistent flavor; the dried root instead has a color varying from straw yellow to ocher yellow, with a sweet, fruity and slightly astringent flavor; the Root Extract, color ranging from burnt earth brown to black, has a sweet-bitter, aromatic, intense and persistent flavor.
The Licorice of Calabria DOP is obtained from crops and spontaneous plants of the Glychirrhiza glabra species in the variety locally called “cordara”.

Preparations –
The roots of the licorice plant are washed and dried and, once the fibers are removed, they are ground, pressed and put in contact with boiling water to extract the juice. This is clarified and concentrated by boiling to obtain a thick, fragrant black paste, which is passed through machines that give it the desired shape. In liquorice-based sweets, flavors and other additives can be added, but the use of dyes is prohibited.
On the market, the drums can be found in chewing sticks, shredded for decoctions and herbal teas, in sugared almonds prepared with pure licorice extract, reduced to powder and in juice (black extract) as a sweetener and flavor corrector in the pharmaceutical industry.
In the kitchen, licorice is widely used for the preparation of sweets and candies but its sweet and bitter taste at the same time is playing an increasingly important role also in savory dishes.
In fact, with licorice root sauces are prepared to pair with meat and fish but also original dishes such as licorice risotto.
A traditional preparation based on this aromatic root is the liquorice liqueur, very common in Calabria.
To prepare the Calabrian liquorice liqueur you need: 200 grams of powdered licorice, 1.5 liters of water, 1 liter of alcohol at 90 ° and 1.2 kg of sugar.
The preparation consists of boiling the water and adding sugar and licorice powder (slowly with the help of a teaspoon and stirring constantly). Allow the syrup thus obtained to cool and add it to the alcohol by mixing the 2 liquids and bottling. The liqueur will be ready to drink after about a month having the foresight to shake the bottle occasionally.
Licorice liqueur can be stored for about 90 days in the pantry or in the refrigerator. If you prefer it can also be stored in the freezer.
To combat cough and phlegm, an infusion that is prepared with 2 g of licorice per 100 ml of boiling water is perfect.
To facilitate digestion, take a teaspoon of tincture after meals.
To prepare the licorice tincture, leave 20 g of roots in 100 ml of alcohol at 20 ° to soak for 2 weeks.
Against inflammation of the gums or sore throat and to combat halitosis, chew a root stick.

Guido Bissanti

Warning: The information shown is not medical advice and may not be accurate. The contents are for illustrative purposes only and do not replace medical advice.

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