Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza Glabra)

Glycyrrhiza Glabra better known as (licorice / liquorice extract) is widely used in the global pharmaceutical, food and cosmetic industries. Milled root waste remaining after the extract is acquired can also be used in the production of particle board and chipboard.

According to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Uzbekistan, more than thirty companies and enterprises with different types of ownership are engaged in procurement and processing of licorice across Uzbekistan. 

Licorice is a plant of ancient origin, steeped in history, and has been medicinally used for more than 4000 years. It is a component of many traditional medical systems. Hippocrates in 400 BC mentioned it as a remedy for ulcers.

Glycyrrhiza is Greek-derived, meaning "sweet root" and Glycyrrhiza glabra means sweet root with hairless seed pods. The dried, peeled or unpeeled underground stems and roots constitute the Licorice.
Licorice is a perennial plant, growing about 1.5 meter high. The wrinkled and woody rootstock is brown outside and yellow inside; sweet-tasting. Leaves are unequally branched, in 4-7 pairs.

Flowers are pale blue, violet, yellowish-white or purplish in colour, arising from the axils of the leaves in racemes or spikes, followed by pods. Pods are smooth and small, resembling a partly-grown peapod, compressed with many seeds.

Licorice extracts and its principal component, glycyrrhizin are extensively use in the manufacture of food, tobacco products, and snuff, and in traditional and herbal medicine.

Licorice extract (block, powder, or liquid) may be applied to cigarette tobacco at levels of about 1-4% to enhance and harmonize the flavour characteristics of smoke, improve moisture-holding characteristics of tobacco, and act as a surface-active agent for ingredient application.

Licorice flavor is found in a wide variety of  candies and it is also found in some soft drinks (eg, root beer) and is in some herbal teas where it provides a sweet aftertaste. Sweet root is said to contain compounds that are roughly 50 times sweeter than sugar.

Licorice is also known throughout the world for its wide variety of medicinal properties. The reason for this can be linked to a certain compound found within the roots of the plant known as Glycyrrhizic Acid. This acid, seen to the right, is said to be capable of treating ulcers and asthma and other aliments however is also known for causing serious health problems if taken in large enough doses. This acid is found in higher concentrations in the fibrous root system which grows closer to the surface rather than the tap root which grows deeper.

Its medicinal usage is extensive. It is used as a demulcent, emollient, expectorant, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, alterative, diuretic and laxative. It is considered to have antibacterial, anti-hepatotoxic, estrogenic, antifungal, anti-haemorrhoidal, anti-hyperglycaemic, antimalarial, antioxidant, antiulcer properties. All parts the roots, leaves, and rhizomes are used.

In Karakalpakstan the infusion of the rootstock used for cough, colds, bronchitis, asthma, hoarseness and dysuria. Powdered roots used as expectorant. Strong decoction also acts as a laxative.

Other afflictions treated:
- Peptic Ulcers: There are mixed results that show licorice taken with antacids can help to treat ulcers.-Canker sores: Gargling dissolved licorice may help with pain relief.
- Eczema: It has been found using a licorice gel with 2% concentration of Glycyrrhizic acid can help relieve itching, swelling, and redness.
- Indigestion: Studies have shown that using an herbal formula known as Iberogast, which also contains the anti-indigestion ingredients peppermint and chamomile, can reduce indigestion.
- Upper Respiratory Infections: Licorice has been found to help with symptoms associated with asthma.

While licorice is capable of treating a multitude of symptoms, precautions must be made when considering to take licorice as an alternative medicine. Most licorice related supplements and medicines contain around 2% Glycyrrhizic acid. It has been found that reaching a daily intake of 100-400mg of Glycyrrhizic acid can cause many serious health problems. When consumed in large quantities, it can cause your body’s potassium levels to fall to the point that some people experience headaches, arrhythmia, a rise in blood pressure, swelling (oedema) and even congestive heart failure as well. Heavy consumption has been associated with increased risk of preterm birth.

Glycyrrhizinates can inhibit 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, the enzyme responsible for inactivating cortisol. High level exposure can produce hypermineralocorticoid-like effects in both animals and humans. At high doses this may produce potentially severe side effects – hypertension, hypokalemia, and fluid retention. Most adverse effects attributed to glycyrrhiza (glycyrrhizic acid). Processing can remove the glycyrrhiza to produce DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) without the metabolic side effects of the unprocessed licorice (liquorice). 

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(Ed: Groundwater contamination from the chemicals that are used in Licorice extraction has been a major problem where proper treatment processes not utilised)