The Licorice plant goes by the Latin name Glycyrrhiza glabra, and licorice powder is derived from drying and finely grinding the roots of the plant. This plant is native to Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. It has a distinct sweet flavor often confused with anise and fennel, and has a variety of culinary as wells medicinal uses. Licorice root has been used to treat various ailments for thousands of years, but also gets some bad press for having negative health effects in individuals with certain conditions, which we'll also discuss further.
Licorice is primarily known across the western world as a black tube or string candy which people tend to either love or hate. While many of us grew up on licorice flavored jelly beans, the fact of the matter is that many "licorice" candies do not actually contain licorice. In some cases the "real" licorice candies are made using extracted glycyrrhizin, which is the active ingredient in licorice root powder, but more often than not the flavor is mimicked using anise.
Glycyrrhizic acid is the active ingredient in licorice, and has been shown to reduce stomach bacteria. The best known medicinal use of licorice root is its ability to soothe a variety of gastrointestinal problems ranging from ulcers and heartburn to food poisoning. This is primarily due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It can also provide relief for sore throats and canker sores.
Licorice can be used as a remedy for respiratory issues, presumably due to increasing the production of phlegm which allows the respiratory system to function properly. For treatment of respiratory issues, licorice is usually consumed in the form of a tea. Licorice root is known to provide stress relief by stimulating the adrenal gland to improve cortisol levels.
Licorice can be combined with oils or gel substances to create a topical creme for skin treatment, and can be taken orally in small doses for the same purpose. Its antibacterial effects are useful in the prevention of tooth decay and skin conditions such as eczema, both of which are caused by bacteria.
While licorice powder is generally safe, it is associated with some negative health effects when taken in excess, or by women who are pregnant or nursing, and individuals with hypertension, heart or kidney problems, and low potassium levels. In general, licorice should not be consumed in large quantities or for longer than 30 days at a time. Large doses of glycyrrhizin can impact adrenal hormone production which can increase blood pressure and cause fluid retention and decrease of potassium levels.
Even in healthy individuals, the dosage of licorice should still be limited in order to avoid any complications: a typical safe daily dose is about 1/2 teaspoon taken for up to one month. As always, consult with a physician before taking licorice powder as a dietary supplement if you are taking any medications.