A to Z about Mulethi

Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is also known as "sweet root". The word “Glycyrrhiza “is made from two Greek words: Glykys, meaning "sweet" and Rhiza, meaning "root". Licorice root has been used in both Eastern and Western medicine to treat a variety of illnesses ranging from the common cold to liver disease. Licorice is one of the most widely used medicinal herbs and is found in numerous traditional formulas. The Liquorice root contains glycyrrhizic acid which is approximately 50 times sweeter than sugar. Its genus name, Glycyrrhiza, given by first century Greek physician Dioscorides, comes from glukos (sweet) and riza (root). In Ayurveda it called Madhuyashti or Yashtimadhu. It is widely distributed in warmer part of the Mediterranean region, North Africa, Spain, Italy, Greece, Syria, South Russia and to Asia Minor, Persia, Arabia, Afghanistan, Turkistan, Siberia, China, India, and East Central Asia. It is cultivated in Italy, France, Russia, Germany, Spain, China, and Burma also to a small extent in India. In India it is cultivated in the Punjab; sub Himalayan Tracts from the Chenab Eastwards, Sindh and Peshawar Valley and Andman Islands.  

Clinical properties and Action: Vatapittashamaka. (Pacifier to Vata and Pitta) , Dahashamaka (Anti-burn), Keshya (Good for Hair), Vedanasthapana (Analgesic), Shothahara (Anti-inflammatory), Nadibalya (Nervine tonic), Medhya (Memory booster), Chhardinigrahana (Anti-emetic), Trishnanigrahana (Anti-thirst) Mridurechana (Mild laxative), Shonitasthapana (Haemostatic) Kaphanissaraka (Bronchodilator), Kanthya (Good for Larynx), Mootrala (Diuratic), Shukravardhaka (Spermatogenetic), Varnya (Skin color fairness promoter), Kandughna (Anti scabies), Jwarashamaka (Anti- pyretic), Rasayana (Rejuvenator), Balya (Strength promoter), Chakshushya.(Good for Eyes).
Edible Uses: Root: Used as a flavoring. The source of liquorice powder is extracted and used in sweets, baked goods, ice cream, soft drinks etc. It is having a sweet and delicious flavor. The root contains glycyrrhizin, a substance that is 50 times sweeter than sucrose. The dried root is often used for chewing; it is excellent for teething children and also as a tooth cleaner. A tea made from the roots is an excellent thirst quencher. Tea made from licorice and other anti-spasmodic herbs is often taken for menstrual cramps. The powdered root is also used as a sweetener in other herb teas. The leaves are used as a tea substitute in Mongolia.
Liquorice root contains saponins. These are substances which produce bubbles when shaken with water. It is the saponins (detergent-like action) that loosen the phlegm in the respiratory tract, so that the body can expel the mucus. They also increase the body's utilization of calcium and silicon. Glycyrrhizin an efficient sweetening agent is a representative glucuronide-saponin of licorice root.
Gastric Ulcers & Hyper Acidity: Liquorice has been widely used as a treatment for gastric ulcers. A substance known as carbenoxolone has been synthesized from the active principle of licorice, glycyrrhizin. This substance has been used by medical science to aid in the healing of gastric ulcers and Acidity. The gastric ulcers are those that are in the stomach itself, and because carbenoxolone is absorbed by the stomach very quickly, the carbenoxolone is not effective on gastric ulcers when given by hypodermic injection, although the cortisone-like effect is observed to have one third the potency of a similar dose of hydrocortisone. Thus we can say that the carbenoxolone has a local action on the ulcer and needs to come in direct contact with the sore. Several clinical studies have shown DGL to be effective in reducing size and symptoms of peptic ulcers without side effects, and of reducing surgery requirements and providing safe and long term maintenance in patients with healed ulcers. Mode of action: Liquorice derived compounds, mainly carbenoxolone, have the effect of raising the local concentration of prostaglandins in the digestive system that promote mucus secretion and cell proliferation (produces new cell formation) in the stomach. Along with this licorice prolongs the life span of surface cells in the stomach and has an antipepsin effect. The combined effect leads to the healing of ulcers. Needs to be taken twenty minutes before food for better efficacy.
Bleeding stomach ulcers caused by aspirin: A recent study from Iranian researchers used aspirin coated with licorice and found that it helped protect against ulcers induced by aspirin, reducing the size and number of ulcers. Mode of action: The activity of Liquorice on prostaglandin-regulating enzymes may explain why this herb protects stomach tissue against aspirin-induced damage.
Constipation: The root is excellent as a stool softener or mild laxative especially for children because it does not cause gripping of the intestine as the other cathartic herbs are known to do. . Its sweet, pleasant taste and mild action make licorice root a desirable laxative herb for children and delicate folks whose weakened bowel could not withstand the quick and drastic purge of the cathartic.
Apthous ulcers: Some research suggests that Liquorice extracts, DGL and carbenoxolone provide benefits for treating cankers sores. A mixture of DGL and warm water applied to the inside of the mouth may shorten the healing time for mouth ulcers. This DGL mixture is made by combining 200 mg of powdered DGL and 1 cup or less (250 ml) of warm water. Swish in the mouth for 2 to 3 minutes twice per day for one week. The use of ordinary Liquorice root powder may provide benefit also.
Anti-Inflammatory / Anti-Allergic: Liquorice has significant anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic activity, particularly in asthma and other atopic conditions. Its anti-inflammatory action accounts for its use in the treatment of chronic inflammations such as arthritic and rheumatic diseases, chronic skin conditions, and auto immune diseases in general. It may also be used as an eye bath in conjunctivitis and other inflammatory conditions of the eye surface. Mode of action : The anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic actions of the drug have been attributed to the corticosteroid-like activity of glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetic acid. It does this by antagonising or counteracting the negative effects of cortisol.
Colitis and Hemorrhoids: In gastric or bowel irritations, licorice acts as an anti-inflammatory substance. Liquorice is recommended by many herbal sources for cases of hemorrhoids or an otherwise inflamed intestinal tract. The anti-inflammatory properties have been attributed to glycyrrhizin.
Oestrogen Balancing: Liquorice is believed to exert an alterative action on oestrogen metabolism, this would imply that it has an adaptogenic action peaking out the highs and lows of oestrogen. Glycyrrhetinic acid antagonises many of the effects of oestrogens, particularly those from external sources (xeno-oestrogens). Mode of action : The anti-estrogenic action documented for glycyrrhizin at high concentration has been associated with glycyrrhizin binding at estrogen receptors. However, estrogenic activity has also been reported for licorice and is attributed to its isoflavone constituents.
Adrenal insufficiency (Addison's disease): Liquorice root is a specific herb that has been used for centuries to support these glands. If cortisol levels are low, one of the ways to sustain more normal levels is to slow or inhibit its breakdown. This can be accomplished naturally. Mode of action : The only known readily available inhibitors of the enzyme that deactivates cortisol (11 beta-HSD) are glycyrrhizic acid (found in licorice root extract), progesterone, and flavonoids (in grapefruit). The concept of extending cortisol bioactivity via 11 beta-HSD inhibition is well established. . The enzyme 11 beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (11 beta-DH) oxidizes cortisol to inactive cortisone. Glycyrrhetenic acid, the hydrolytic metabolite of glycyrrhizic acid, inhibits the action of 11 beta-DH (e.g. in the kidney). Thus, licorice consumption can induce a mineralocorticoid excess state, most likely due to an acquired inhibition of this key enzyme, decreased transformation of cortisol into cortisone, and resultant increased cortisol levels at the mineralocorticoid receptor. It increases and prolongs the action of this hormone. In states of 11 beta-DH deficiency such as the syndrome of apparent mineralocorticoid excess (AME) and licorice ingestion, cortisol acts as a potent mineralocorticoid.
Physicians prescribe licorice alone or with cortisol to treat mild cases of Addison's disease, in which the body produces too little of this hormone.
Catarrh, Bronchitis, Asthma and Cough: Glycyrrhiza is widely used in bronchial problems such as catarrh, bronchitis, coughs and sore throats. It reduces irritation of the throat and yet has an expectorant action. It produces its demulcent and expectorant effects by stimulation of tracheal mucous secretion. Liquorice is extremely soothing to the mucous membranes.
Immune Strengthener: Glycyrrhizin and glycyrrhetinic acid induce interferon - the body's natural anti-viral compound. Glycyrrhizin inhibits the growth of several DNA and RNA viruses, namely, vacinia, herpes simplex, vesicular and stomatis viruses. Polysaccharides of G. glabra have a pronounced activity on the reticuloendothelial system, immune system.
Anti-Bacterial: Alcohol extracts of Liquorice have displayed anti-microbial activity against staphylococcus aureus, streptococcus mutans, mycobacterium smegmatis and Candida albicans. The majority of its anti-microbial effects are due to its isoflavanoid components, with glycyrrhetinic acid and derivatives having a lesser antibacterial effect.
Liver Supportive: Glycyrrhetinic acid reduces key liver enzymes SGOT and SGTP and induces interferon according to animal studies. . Researchers have also demonstrated that licorice helps protect the liver from damage due to chemotherapy. Glycyrrhetinic acid may inhibit chemical induced liver damage. It acts by preventing free radical damage as well as inhibiting the formation of free radicals. At low doses, the herb stimulates the liver to manufacture cholesterol and excrete it in bile. This can help lower serum cholesterol levels.
Hepatitis: Physicians use licorice to treat chronic hepatitis B. Glycyrrhizin interferes with hepatitis B surface antigen and is synergistic with interferon against hepatitis A virus. It is also used at times to treat hepatitis C. The Liquorice extracts DGL and carbenoxolone have been proposed as possible therapies for viral hepatitis.
High cholesterol and heart diseases: Emerging studies are beginning to suggest that licorice may also play a role in the treatment of heart disease. In one recent study, people with high cholesterol experienced a significant reduction in total cholesterol, LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and trigylceride levels after taking licorice root extracts for one month. The extract also reduced systolic blood pressure by 10 percent. These measures returned to their previous, elevated levels when the participants stopped taking the licorice supplements. Earlier studies in mice produced similar results. Liquorice root extract reduced the risk of atherosclerosis in these animals.
Poor Memory: Liquorice root supports the adrenal glands and indirectly influences the brain.
Antioxidant: Liquorice is considered a powerful antitoxin and is used as an aid in the treatment of pesticide poisoning.
Liquorice is an expectorant tonic, alterative, demulcent, refrigerant, emetic in large dose, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, mild laxative, aphrodisiac, trichogenous, stimulant, sialagogue , emmenagogue, galactagogue, smoth muscle depressant, anti-microbial, hypolipidaemic, antiantherosclerotic, antiviral, hypotensive, hepatoprotective, anti-exudative, spasmolytic, antimutagenic, antipyretic, antioxident, alexipharmic, haemostatic and intellect promoting, emollient, pectoral, adrenocorticotrophic (stimulates the cortex of the adrenal gland), anti-allergic and nourishing herb.
People should avoid licorice if they have a known allergy to licorice, any component of licorice or any member of the Fabaceae (Leguminosae) plant family. Signs of allergy may include rash, itching or shortness of breath.
Side Effects: A number of active chemicals are thought to account for the biologic activity of liquorices. Liquorice contains a chemical called glycyrrhizic acid, which causes many side effects. DGL has had the glycyrrhizic acid removed and is considered safer for use. Serious side effects that occur with licorice led researchers to develop a deglycyrrhizinated licorice, DGL.which is free of glycyrrhizin and has had no significant reported adverse effects. Many of the adverse effects of licorice result from the actions it has on hormone systems in the body. By altering the activities of certain hormones, licorice may cause electrolyte disturbances in some people. Thus adverse effects from glycyrrhizin are primarily related to possible changes in electrolytes. Due to this the consequences of high doses (more than 20 g/day) or long-term use of licorice are severe. This herb can cause Low levels of potassium, Sodium retention, Fluid retention, Metabolic alkalosis , Hypokalemia, Hormonal imbalance, Pseudo-hyperaldosteronism which can cause an individual to become overly sensitive to a hormone in the adrenal cortex, Hyper-mineralcorticoidism, Negative effects on the brain (hypertensive encephalopathy), with symptoms of serious headache, nausea, vomiting and one-sided weakness, Heart attack, Cardiac arrhythmias, Kidney damage, Muscle weakness or muscle breakdown and muscle pain, Lethargy and fatigue as well as weakness are part of the picture of licorice toxicity, Paralysis of the legs (and in one case, of all of the limbs) has been reported, Swelling of the face and limbs, Decreased libido in men, Suppression of scalp sebum secretion, Liquorice can reduce thyroid gland activity and lower the basal metabolic rate, Abnormally low testosterone levels in men or high prolactin or estrogen levels in women have also been reported, These adverse effects may make it difficult to become pregnant and may cause menstrual abnormalities, Reduced body fat mass has been observed.
Precautions: The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, contain active substances that can trigger side effects and that can interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, preferably under the supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine. The consequences of high doses (more than 20 g/day) or long-term use of licorice are severe. Therefore as precaution Liquorice should not be consumed by those with renal or liver dysfunction, or women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. People with high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes should not use it. This herb should also not be used by men with decreased libido or other sexual dysfunctions. Use of any licorice product is not recommended for longer than four to six weeks. A product known as DGL (Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice) is available which retains the anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer actions of whole licorice root without pseudo-aldosterone side effects.
Drying the Roots and storage: The harvested roots and runners are cut into sections of 15-20 cm, Washed and dried. Normally the roots contain 50-60% moisture and should be dried in sunlight for 2-3 days and then in shade for 4-5 days. The dry roots should possess not more than 10% moisture when these are ready to be stored. The dried roots are stored in polythene lined bags. The roots can be decontaminated from bacteria and fungi by treating them with 5 kGy gamma radiation.
Yield: - Good crop (dry roots) can give and average production of 75 to 80 quintals per hectare of crop.
Trade and Commerce:-
The sale price of root is Rs. 5000.00 quintal.
Retail market price of Root powder is Rs. 276/kg. (2000)
There is no difficulty in finding market for these roots, because its demand exceeds the supply.
Substitutes and Adulterants:-
The drug sold in market in the name of Yashtimadhu or Liquorice consists of pieces of stolons and roots of Glycyrrhiza glabra. Generally some other roots are mixed with these pieces. Usually roots of Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch. (Manchurian Liquorice) and roots of Abrus precatorius Linn are adulterated with Liquorice. Stem pieces of Glycyrrhiza glabra are also sold in place of root.
Pure (unadulterated) mulhati is yellowish brown or dark brown, longitudinally wrinkled externally; yellow and fibrous from inside. It has light fragrance and sweet in the taste.
Formulations and Preparations:
Ayurvedic: Yashtyadi churna, Yashtimadhvadya taila, Kalyanavaleha, Angamardaprashamana kashaya, Brihat ashwagandha ghrita Brihachchhagaladya ghrita, Shatavaryadi ghrita, Nasika churna, Guduchyadi taila, Pippalyadi taila, Vyaghri taila, Kubjaprasarani taila, vridhihara lepa.
Parts used: Root and Rhizome. Dose According to Ayurveda: Root Powder (Churna): 2 to 3 gram to adult.
Other Uses: The plant yields a substance that is used for etching steel sections in photomicrographic work. Extracts from the root are used as a foaming agent in beers and fire extinguishers. A fiber obtained from the roots is used for insulation, wallboard, boxboard etc. The fibers can be used after the medicinal and flavoring constituents of the root have been removed.

PG MMM Govt Ayurveda College,
Former Senior Academic and Clinical Consultant to the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.