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Formulating with Licorice

Albion Minerals®


Licorice is one of the most popular and widely consumed herbs in the world. Also known as “sweet root,” licorice root contains the compound glycyrrhizin, which is 50 times sweeter than refined sugar. The licorice plant is a legume that is native to southern Europe and parts of Asia. It is not related to anise, star anise or fennel, which are the sources of similar-tasting flavoring compounds.

“In ayurveda, it is called as ‘yastimadhu’ and traditionally used to relieve inflammation of internal organs, eye diseases, throat infections, peptic ulcers, arthritic conditions and liver diseases,” said Shaheen Majeed, marketing director with Sabinsa Corporation (East Windsor, NJ). “Its effectiveness in managing these conditions is attributed to the expectorant, emollient, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-hepatotoxic and antibacterial properties of its potent constituents.” 

In the respiratory system it has a soothing and healing action, reducing irritation and inflammation and has an expectorant effect, Majeed added. “Licorice helps to ease congestion and coughing by helping to loosen and thin Mucus in airways; this makes a cough more ‘productive,’ bringing up phlegm and other mucus bits,” he said. Due to its mucilaginous properties, licorice soothes the throat.

Licorice also appears to enhance immunity by boosting levels of interferon, a key immune system chemical that fights off attacking viruses that cause respiratory illnesses and an overproduction of mucus.

Brien Quirk, director of research and development with Draco Natural Products (San Jose, CA), added that the most widespread use is for digestive and stomach health, especially acid reflux (GERD) and ulcers. “One version known as DGL (de-glycyrrhizinated licorice) is used to help heal ulcers based on the rich flavonoid content,”

Quirk said. “The glycyrrhizin is mostly removed so that hypertension, edema and heart problems do not develop.” 

In traditional Chinese medicine, licorice is a vital energy tonic that strengthens adrenal function, immunity and helps support liver function. There is research in hepatitis and other viral conditions and shows much promise for a wide variety of ailments. Other research shows benefit for abdominal obesity.

Organic Offering

For manufacturers that would like to include more organic product offerings, Draco provides organic licorice root extract that has the benefit of being extracted with pure water and from organic certified raw material at its organic NOP [National Organic Program] certified extraction facility. “The benefit is more confidence that this has not been grown with chemical fertilizers and has instead been grown in nutrient-rich organic soil,” Quirk said.

Working With Licorice

Licorice can be easily formulated in supplements and items such as candies and chewing gums; there are no formulations or delivery concerns as such. “Sabinsa, in fact, introduced Aquasol Licorice particularly for formulation in beverages,” said Majeed. However, overdose of licorice should be avoided due to its side effects such as hypertension, he warned. “One should also avoid taking different formulations of licorice as it may increase risk of overdosing. As a safer form of licorice consumption, we also provide the DGL form, or deglycyrrhizinated licorice, which has lesser side effects.” 

Licorice root extract has a low bulk density so in some cases a granulated Version is advisable if larger quantities are needed per dose, noted Quirk. “It also can be hygroscopic to readily absorb moisture from the air. This is due to the rich abundance of naturally occurring polysaccharides, which likely have bioactivity for its demulcent and immune health properties. So while it’s a valuable constituent, it will be helpful to add a flow agent and maintain low ambient humidity and air temperatures during processing.” 

Licorice Confines

Licorice extract is used worldwide in cough syrups, herbal supplements, chewing gums, functional drinks and candy. Though licorice is very popular and growing in use, there will always be some limitation for how high the dosage can be due to its potent effects. Licorice and licorice derivatives are affirmed as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for use in foods by the FDA, however it has been reported in some cases that large amounts of licorice may result in hypertension and hypokalemia (low potassium levels), said Majeed. 

This is a consideration for manufacturers working with licorice. “The main concern Is the glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetinic acid content—if consumed in excess, it will cause adrenal hormone (mineralcorticoid) disturbances or pseudoaldosteronism, which causes a buildup of sodium in the blood, fluid retention, high blood pressure and potentially congestive heart failure,” noted Quirk. “The way this is avoided is to limit the total daily intake of glyccyrhizin to somewhere between 50 to 100mg daily,” he said. “Licorice, if taken in excess, can also have estrogenic side effects.” 

Other Uses

Licorice has great potential for inflammatory skin conditions that typically require hydrocortisone, so this makes for a natural alternative. Pure glycyrrhizin topically used has melanin-stimulating effects, which may have potential as a natural skin-tanning agent. Licorice is very frequently added to traditional Chinese medicine formulas with other herbs to act as an assistant herb helping with the absorption and utilization of other herbal components. 


Draco Natural Products, (408) 287-7871

Sabinsa Corporation, (732) 777-1111