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What is Licorice Extract?

By G. Wiesen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Licorice extract is a natural ingredient often found in both food and herbal medicine supplements. While the full medicinal effectiveness of licorice has not been completely tested, some benefits have been proven and others have enough support to warrant its inclusion in a number of supplements. Often found in teas and used in a number of different products as a flavoring ingredient, licorice extract can provide help in treating stomach issues such as heartburn, but does have some noteworthy side effects that should be considered.

Used by ancient cultures including the Greeks, Romans, and Chinese, licorice extract comes from the licorice plant. The root of the plant is primarily used in preparing the extract, and the hard woody plant is pulped then boiled to further extract and refine the contents. This extract is used in a number of applications, commonly used to enhance the flavors of sweet foods and to sweeten tobacco and alcohol.

The medicinal uses of licorice extract have been noted and utilized for thousands of years, though modern science has not found sufficient evidence to support every use. There is evidence to show that when licorice is combined with certain herbs, including peppermint, German chamomile, and milk thistle, the resulting combination can be used to treat heartburn. This treatment has been commercially available as STW 5 for more than 40 years and can reduce the severity of acid reflux and associated nausea and vomiting.

Less evidence exists, however, to support the use of licorice extract in treating other conditions, such as muscle cramps, hepatitis, and stomach ulcers. Some research has found that a combination of licorice and peony may reduce muscle cramps in people with liver disease or for people going through treatment for kidney failure. There is also some research to support the use of certain chemicals in licorice administered intravenously to treat hepatitis B and hepatitis C, though such treatment likely requires further study. Licorice extract that has been specially prepared may help in the healing of stomach ulcers by lining the stomach with a protective coating. There is also some evidence to show it may help reduce body fat, though it also increases water retention that offsets such weight loss.

While licorice is typically safe in the amounts an average person will eat, it can have certain potential side effects if taken in a large quantity over a long period of time. These side effects include high blood pressure, reduced potassium in the blood, and even sexual side effects in men. Licorice extract seems to reduce testosterone in men and can act like estrogen in women, so it should not be taken by men or women undergoing hormone therapy or with conditions such as ovarian cancer or erectile dysfunction. There may also be a risk of premature birth for pregnant women. Like any herbal supplement, a physician should be consulted before anyone starts taking a licorice treatment.

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Discussion Comments
By ZipLine — On Apr 04, 2014

There is no doubt that licorice extract has benefits, but it also has many side effects. Everyone cannot take this supplement and those with high blood pressure or diabetes have to avoid it completely.

I used to take licorice extract before but I was recently diagnosed with high blood pressure and I've noticed that licorice extract increases it even more. This is a common side effect that many sources warn about. Another issue with licorice extract is that it raises blood sugar in some people, so it's problematic for diabetics. Some licorice extract supplements are in a base of alcohol, which is another ingredient that raises blood sugar. So it's important to be careful.

By bear78 — On Apr 04, 2014

@serenesurface-- I know that commercial licorice candies list licorice extract as an ingredient but I'm not sure how they process them for candy making. For homemade candies, it would be better to use licorice flavoring, although the flavoring is probably made from anise or fennel rather than licorice. You could alternatively use dry or fresh licorice root.

Licorice extract is usually sold as a health supplement as the article said. It is available either in capsule form or as a liquid tonic. But these are not suitable for use in the kitchen.

Licorice extract has many benefits. It can strengthen the immune system and adrenal function. It's good for fatigue and digestive troubles. I even know people who use liquid licorice extract mixed with other natural ingredients topically on their skin. I have never tried it this way though. I take the supplement once or twice a week for adrenal fatigue.

By serenesurface — On Apr 03, 2014

I can't find licorice extract anywhere but I have found licorice flavoring. Can I use this instead for homemade licorice candies?

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