Some people are very alert as to what sort of substances go into what they put in their mouths while other people operate on the philosophy of, “eh, it hasn’t killed me or my parents before me, so it’s probably not a problem.” So, for all you non-fact checkers out there, you just so happened to luck out while eating black liquorice because it turns out that black liquorice, specifically, is derived from a plant and contains all sorts of cool qualities.
"Black liquorice is made from the root of a plant."
Picture source: Wikipedia
The list of legumes you may be familiar with include: peas, beans, lentils, and peanuts - and Glycyrrhiza glabra, which is licorice. Or rather, licorice root comes from Glycyrrhiza glabra (which sounds fun enough to repeat saying indefinitely).
In some places, such as Spain and Italy, licorice roots are dug up, rinsed, and chewed on, with no further processing or manufacturing of the Glycyrrhiza glabra is needed. It’s common for people in these areas to use licorice root as a breath freshener. You think black liquorice is intense, try chewing on straight Glycyrrhiza glabra plant!
Glycyrrhiza glabra is most common in the Middle East and Central Asia, with the chief licorice root cultivators coming from Iran, Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Turkey.
And only black liquorice (for example Pure Italian Licorice) is made from the plant Glycyrrhiza glabra. Other forms of “licorice” have nothing to do with actual licorice root. They’re just made to look kind of to typical black liquorice candies.
Black liquorice, licorice root, and the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant have medicinal qualities.
Compounds in Glycyrrhiza glabra are used for all sorts of things. In some places, they’re used intravenously to treat critical conditions like hepatitis and cirrhosis. In other places it’s used to “harmonize” other ingredients in herbal medicine. Think about that the next time you’re eating a piece of licorice candy.
Licorice root also has a lot of anti- properties: anti-inflammatory, antitumour, antidiabetic, antiulcer. For instance, licorice has been shown to be helpful in treating hyperpigmentation where it’s related to inflammation - which mostly means that it can help reduce the discoloration left behind by acne. Which is pretty cool.
It’s also pretty cool that black liquorice might be effective in preventing ‘dental caries’ - also known as ‘cavities’ and ‘tooth decay.’
And another thing licorice root is good for? Preventing neurodegenerative disorders. So, things like ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease. Glycyrrhiza glabra has been shown to help prevent these horrible, life destroying diseases.
Did that last paragraph make it sound like we’d run out of things licorice root is good for? We haven’t run out of things that licorice root is good for. When not used as a candy, but as a topical ointment, Glycyrrhiza glabra can help alleviate a condition called “atopic dermatitis,” or eczema. You’ve probably heard of eczema and applying licorice root to the skin can help alleviate the condition... Though we don’t recommend rubbing the candy on your arm or anything, that might be substantially less helpful.
Putting the many benefits of Glycyrrhiza glabra to productive use dates all the way back to antiquity, when Alexander the Great, himself fed it to his troops to make them less thirsty. Super handy when carrying a little bit of black liquorice is considerably less heavy than carrying an equivalent amount of water around.
black liquorice can also be used as an expectorant - compounds in Glycyrrhiza glabra helps remove mucus from the lungs (which is a place you generally don’t want clogged up) by causing the ingester (that’s literally a word we just made up right now) to cough said mucus up.
Finally, to wrap up all the many, many benefits derived from the compounds of Glycyrrhiza glabra (we still really like saying that phrase) - licorice root is also a mild laxative. That’s a good thing in moderation, but maybe think about that before eating a whole bag of black liquorice right before a first date.
Licorice root can be toxic in high quantities.
While there are a lot benefits to eating black liquorice made from the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant, here can be a few harmful side effects, as well, if eating licorice root in high quantities.
Not every black liquorice treat contains the same quantity of licorice root as other licorice products. While the Italians might chew on the licorice root directly, candies that you can buy in the store will contain significantly lower amounts of the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant - even if it’s black liquorice you’re eating.
However, true licorice made from actual licorice root can still be dangerous. black liquorice is one of the very few candies in the world that you literally overdose on because of its active properties derived from the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant, itself.
According to the American FDA, if you’re consuming simple black liquorice candies, which are several steps removed from the original licorice root, you don’t want to eat more than two ounces a day for more than two weeks, if you’re over 40. Don’t get us wrong. That doesn’t mean that if you’re under 40, you still don’t want to go overboard with any products derived from Glycyrrhiza glabra. Susceptibility to the side effects works on a sliding scale.
Licorice root can exacerbate heart problems and high blood pressure - or even cause those problems where they weren’t present before. Some of the more common side effects of black liquorice over-consumption can be: abnormal heart rhythms, swelling, lethargy, and congestive heart failure.
But don’t panic! Glycyrrhiza glabra is not a toxic plant. Just don’t eat bag fulls of black liquorice every single day and you should be good.