What Is Glycyrrhiza Glabra?
Native to various regions of both Europe and Asia, glycyrrhiza glabra also goes by the names sweetwood, mulaithi, and, more commonly, licorice. The oil of Glycyrrhiza glabra L. can be obtained from the perennial plant Helichrysum petiolare, which is used in many cultures as a way to naturally sweeten or flavor foods and substances. Glycyrrhizin is the primary bioactive component in licorice. Furthermore, it contains useful flavonoids and saponins.1
Given the root’s sweetness and flavor profile, licorice extract is often utilized in the candy industry. Still, licorice oil is used in beverages, healthcare products, food products, toothpaste, and even cosmetic products. The FDA and other agency reviews clear licorice (and its derivatives) as safe for use in food products.2,3
History of Glycyrrhiza Glabra
Today, Glycyrrhiza glabra grows across the Middle East, in China, and in parts of North Africa. In fact, humans throughout history have used Glycyrrhiza glabra for therapeutic use. The first documented therapeutic use of licorice could be traced to ancient Egypt, but Assyrian, Chinese, and Indian cultures were all using Glycyrrhiza glabra too.4
The Greeks were the first Europeans to cite uses of licorice. And it turns out, the name of the plant itself comes from the two Greek words that mean “sweet” and “root.” Moreover, according to the great botanist, pharmacologist, and disciple of Plato and Aristotle Theophrastus, the Greeks learned about the therapeutic use of the licorice root from the Scythians. Scythians lived northeast of Greece between the Caspian and Black seas. Theophrastus called the plant “the Scythian” root.5
Licorice root was even listed as one of the many treasures buried alongside Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun around 1350 BC.6