There are some things that you can do an in depth study of and still not truly understand until you have firsthand experience. This has been the story between me and licorice root. I have been reading for years about how amazing it is and how it is a foundational herb in both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine; two ancient healing practices. However, until recently I didn’t realize what powerful truly meant.
I have added dried licorice root to teas in the past, mainly because it soothes the stomach and aids digestion and because I really enjoy the taste. I can’t stand licorice candy, but the real thing, licorice root tea, is delicious. It contains glycyrrhizin which is 50 times sweeter than sugar. It is often added to herbal blends because of its pleasant flavor and its purported ability to harmonize and enhance the effects of other herbs.
I had been feeling pretty stressed out with a recent move, break up with a boyfriend and a fairly new job. I decided that I needed to start making some teas to help reestablish emotional balance. I chose Lemon Balm and Valerian. Because Valerian tastes like dirty socks, I decided to add some licorice root. I made the tea really strong and guzzled it for a few days. Oh what a happy accident this turned out to be!
I have tried EVERY natural remedy you can imagine to clear up my acne; scrubs, rubs, cutting almost everything out of my diet, vitamins, creams, oregano oil on the skin, etc, etc. And I tell you what, after a couple of days of drinking licorice root tea, my skin is clear! Almost like magic. I also had an outbreak of eczema that I had been trying to clear up for almost a year. Same thing as the acne, I have tried every remedy that I can think of. I absolutely refuse to use cortisone creams because they only suppress the issue, creating potential for a more serious malady in the future. It was interesting with my eczema, the first night, I had a flare up and some intense itching. I thought, oh no, I am allergic to one of the herbs in my tea! But low and behold, it has almost completely vanished now. The only thing left to tell the tale is some dry skin that is quickly regaining its suppleness and dark scaring that I have no doubt will fade. This led me to a renewed study of the herbs I was using. There is only one that can be responsible for the restored glow of my skin: licorice root.
I have long since suspected that my acne is hormonally driven as it seems to cycle with my period and when I eat dairy (a hormone rich food). Low and behold, licorice root is a hormone balancer. It is an adaptogen, which means if the levels of hormones are too low, it brings them up, if they are too high it brings them down; it is an equalizer. Licorice does this particularly with estrogen, a predominately female hormone that we are over exposed to in today’s environment (plastics, birth control pills, phytoestrogens).
Licorice root enhances immune function and is a great tonic for the spleen which is a major player in our lymph system. A lot of acne and skin issues can be related to stress. Licorice root contains compounds that act like cortisol, our stress hormone; once again, giving you some if you have too little and taking some away if you have too much. Yet another skill in its repertoire is that of a strong anti-inflammatory. This would explain why after drinking licorice root tea I notice that the acne spots I did have were less inflamed. It is also an anti-allergenic which is very handy as I seem to be allergic to everything. Chinese medicine claims that licorice root balances all twelve meridians; no other herb can boast this.
I also had firsthand experience with the downside of licorice root. Because glycyrrhizin has such a strong effect on hormones, it can cause water retention. Those with high blood pressure should proceed with caution if they choose to use licorice root. I typically have low blood pressure so I wasn’t too concerned with this potential side effect. I did however, start to notice that the tissue around my eyes was getting really puffy. I would wake up with large bags around my eyes; ah water retention. It is always advised that you take a break from any herbal regimen you are on. So, I am on hiatus from using my beloved herb; but my beautiful new skin persists!