Licorice Root Uses: Coughs, Cavities, and Canker Sores

Are you a fan of so-called licorice root candies like red vines and good-n-plenty? Are you wondering what they have to do with coughs, cavities, and canker sores? The answer is nothing! What we Americans call licorice is either flavoured with anise (black licorice) or artificial fruit (red licorice). True licorice root, rarely used in candy, holds medicinal value that would turn those red vines green with envy. Folk medicine and scientific research are beginning to cross paths, and licorice root is gaining credibility for its uses in treating coughs, preventing cavities, and healing canker sores.

About Licorice Root

The licorice root used for health purposs is most frequently Glycyrrhiza glabra, native to parts of Mediterranean Europe (notably Greece and Cyprus) and to parts of Asia (notably China). A North American plant known as American licorice, Glycyrrhiza lepidota, has similar properties. The extract of licorice root is drawn through decoction of the leaves in hot water until the plant’s vital compounds have been been infused. The water is them evaporated, leaving behind the rich sludge of licorice root extract.

Licorice root contains the compound glycyrrhizin (a glycoside), which accounts for some of the medicinal value. However, in larger doses, glycyrrhizin can lead to potassium deficiency. It can also inhibit the body’s natural ability to lower blood pressure. Accordingly, two forms of licorice root are available for herbal medicine: licorice root with glycyrrhizin and deglycyrrhizinated licorice root. While both types have health uses, they are employed for different reasons. Regular licorice root (with glycyrrhizin) is used reactively to treat coughs, whereas deglycyrrhizinated licorice root is used proactively to prevent cavities and reactively to treat canker sores.

Licorice Root Uses: Cough Expectorant

Most cough medicines are prepared to treat either dry coughs or “wet” coughs, usually known as productive coughs. Licorice root with glycyrrhizin treats the latter, working as an expectorant to loosen and thin mucus, thuis making the productive cough more, well, productive. Those who worry about glycyrrhizin’s propensity to cause potassium deficiency should remember that this kind of licorice root is intended only as a temporary treatment – not a daily supplement. The tea form of licorice root is recommended for coughs, but a syrup is also available.

Licorice Root Uses: Canker Sore Treatment

Wafers, teas, and mouthwashes with deglycyrrhizinated licorice root have been used successfully to treat canker sores, also known as apthous ulcers. These pesky mouth sores come and go mysertiously and seem to be caused by different things in different people, making across-the-board treatments tough to find. That said, a small study by four researchers in India (Das, Das, Gulati, and Singh) found that 75% of canker sore patients experienced significant improvements after just one day of using licorice root mouthwash. About the same number experienced complete healing of the ulcer by the third day of licorice root treatment. In addition to this study, anecdotal folk evidence supports the use of licorice root to treat these irritating mouth sores.

Licorice Root Uses: Prevention of Cavities

The February 2006 volume of the Journal of Natural Products, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Chemical Society, contains some positive research on licorice root as cavity-preventing substance. Scientists at UCLA isolated several compounds in licorice root that fight Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria known for causing tooth decay. While research is still preliminary, the team suggests that commercial toothpastes and mouthwashes may someday contain licorice root extract in some form. By 2010, you could be scoping out a new version of Scope!

Where to Buy Licorice Root

Because it comes in so many forms – tea bags, loose tea, drops, mouthwashes, wafers, caplets – licorice root shoppers are advised to search the web for their desired form of this herbal remedy, though local health food stores may have some types of licorice root treatments. Here are some recommended websites:

For tea: www.n101.com (Alvita brand licorice root tea) and www.stashtea.com (sells a licorice root medley)

For capsules: www.1001herbs.com and www.iherb.com

For wafers: www.naturalhealthconsult.com

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