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Chinese Liquorice Root

Close up shot of Chinese Liquorice Root Gan Cao TCM Herb

What is Chinese Liquorice Root?

Chinese Liquorice Root (gan cao, 甘草) comes from the root of the Liquorice Plant (Glycyrrhiza Uralensis), and is considered to be one of the world’s oldest herbal remedies. As one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Chinese Liquorice Root is often added to herbal blends and recipes as a harmonising ingredient. 

Not only is it said to be the most widely used herb in TCM, it is also very popular in the West too. In the past, Chinese Liquorice Root was used by the Egyptians as a flavoring for a drink called Mai-sus, and large quantities were found in King Tut’s 3000 year-old tomb for his trip into the afterlife. In fact, European tradition believes that Chinese Liquorice Root is so nutritious and thirst-quenching that having a small piece under one’s tongue can keep one alive for 10 to 12 days. The ancient Hindus also made a tonic-milk using Chinese Liquorice Root as they believe this drink can increase vitality.

In TCM, Chinese Liquorice Root falls under the category of ‘Tonic Herbs for Qi Deficiency’. It can help to replenish one’s ‘Four Treasures’ (qi, blood, yin, yang). Neutral in nature and sweet in taste, this herb can slow down acute reactions, detoxify the body and has a tonic effect on the body by replenishing qi and blood. In particular, Chinese Liquorice Root targets the Heart, the Lung and the Spleen.

Functions and Benefits of Chinese Liquorice Root

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shows that Chinese Liquorice Root include the following: 

Chinese Liquorice Root can replenish qi to address Spleen and stomach Deficiencies. Such Deficiencies cause fatigue, general weakness, poor appetite and loose bowels. Chinese Liquorice Root can help to relieve these symptoms. Also, Chinese Liquorice Root can moisten the Lungs, expel Phlegm and relieve cough conditions.

Chinese Liquorice Root can also be used to treat digestive disorders, muscular spasms caused by Blood Deficiency, promote the healing of pus-forming infections or inflammatory conditions, and to detoxify the body by clearing Heat and dispelling toxicity. 

Other than the above Chinese Liquorice Root  benefits, the herb is also often used to modulate undesirable harshness or toxic properties in the remedies. For example, the herb is added in purgative remedies to reduce the adverse effects of rhubarb and sodium sulfate, such as abdominal pain. It often acts as a buffer to harmonize different ingredients in a remedy, and may also be a sweetener to make the decoction more pleasant-tasting.

Chinese Liquorice Root is also an important ingredient in the treatment of palpitation, abnormal heart beating and hysteria.

Modern studies also suggest that Chinese Liquorice Root is rich in antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and anti-cancer properties. This herb may be able to relieve skin conditions such as acne and eczema. This is why Liquorice Root is often used in topical gels.

Chinese Liquorice Root may be able to relieve symptoms of indigestion such as acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), upset stomach and heartburn. The herb may also help to treat peptic ulcers caused by inflammation.

Chinese Liquorice Root is also used to ease upper respiratory conditions such as asthma. This herb can also protect against bacteria that may lead to cavities.

How to Use Chinese Liquorice Root

Chinese Liquorice Root comes in a large variety of forms, including but not limited to its dried form, capsules, liquids, topical gels, candies and snacks. Some other popular forms are Chinese Liquorice Root Tea and Chinese Liquorice Root Sticks. Chinese Liquorice Root and Chinese Liquorice Root products can be found at health food stores, Asian markets, certain grocery stores and herbal stores. 

For respiratory conditions, chronic fatigue syndrome and herpes, many herbalists recommend using “standard,” or glycyrrhizinated, Chinese Liquorice Root. The recommended dosage for Chinese Liquorice Root capsules is 5-6g per day. 

For ulcers of the mouth, stomach and digestive tract, most practitioners recommend deglycyrrhizinated Chinese Liquorice Root, at the usual dosage of one 200-300mg tablet three times per day before meals and before going to bed.

Dried Liquorice Slices can also be used in decoctions and tinctures. You can also try chewing them for a mouthful of flavor.

Dried liquorice root pieces and powder in bowls
Chinese Liquorice root is one of several TCM herbs known for their efficacy in treating melasma.

Cautions and Side Effects of Chinese Liquorice Root

Chinese Liquorice Root should not be used by individuals experiencing excess Dampness, nausea or vomiting. Individuals who tend to retain water, have heart conditions or high blood pressure should also use Chinese Liquorice Root with caution and avoid ingesting large amounts of it.

Prolonged use of Chinese Liquorice Root of six weeks or more with excessive doses of more than 50g per day may cause pseudoaldosteronism and increase one’s blood pressure.

According to the German Commission E monographs, Chinese Liquorice Root should not be used by pregnant women or people with Liver and/or Kidney disorders. That is because consuming lots of Chinese Liquorice Root may negatively affect your baby’s brain development.

Liquorice root has been shown to interact with several medications, including:

  • Blood pressure medications
  • Blood thinners
  • Cholesterol lowering medications, including statins
  • Diuretics
  • Estrogen-based contraceptives
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

People taking any of these medications should avoid Liquorice root products unless their healthcare provider instructs otherwise.


Here is a summary for Chinese Liquorice Root:

  • Herb name (Chinese): 甘草
  • Herb name (Pin Yin): gān cǎo
  • Herb name (English): Chinese Liquorice Root
  • Herb name (Botanical): Radix et Rhizoma Glycyrrhizae
  • Origin of species: Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch.; Glycyrrhiza inflata Bat.; Glycyrrhiza glabra L.
  • Part(s) of herb used: Root and rhizome
  • Geo-specific habitat(s): Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Gansu
  • Taste(s) & Properties: Sweet; Neutral; Administrates the Heart, Lung, Spleen and Stomach meridians
  • Actions: Nourishes and improves functions of all major bodily systems; Relieves sore throat or related discomforts; Helps to harmonise the different herbal functions in the prescriptions

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