Licorice: Not just a sweet candy December 22 2018, 0 Comments

Found in large amounts in King Tut’s tomb amongst his gold, gems, and other treasures, the ancient Egyptians believed Licorice root was a magic cure and would protect the King in the afterlife. While Licorice is not quite a cure-all, it is truly a medicinal gift from nature for horses and humans alike. This hardy perennial is native to parts of the Middle East, Asia, the Mediterranean, and Northern China, and while best known for its flavoring in candies, its medicinal benefits abound.

Plant parts and uses

The root of the licorice plant contains Glycyrrhizic Acid, which gives licorice its primary medicinal properties. The root is typically dried and shredded or made into a powder. Its scientific name comes from the ancient Greek word for “Sweet Root” as it is thought to be 30-50 times sweeter than sugar, thus giving it superior palatability. Glycyrrhizic Acid is a natural anti-inflammatory compound, which gives Licorice both its sweet taste and its effectiveness as a eczema remedy, a bronchial soother, stress-reliever, and an ulcer remedy. The shreds or powder can be made into a tea or a tincture to be used either topically or ingested. It is generally recommended to use for acute issues and not for long-term application.

Most common uses for horses

Licorice root is commonly used as an herbal remedy for intestinal ulcers as well as bronchial issues in horses.   Licorice is actually a legume, like alfalfa, so horses generally accept it with enthusiasm. Due to its anti-bacterial and inflammatory properties, it is generally effective at healing digestive upsets caused by bacterial infections and can promote good bacterial balance in the intestine. The anti-inflammatory properties of the herb also soothe a horse’s airways, reduce throat soreness, and relaxes bronchial spasms making it a great treatment for horses with heaves or other respiratory issues.

CAUTION: Licorice should not be fed to pregnant mares or as a long-term support as it may cause birth defects or hypertension. 

Home grown

Although not native to North America, Licorice is a relatively easy plant to cultivate, and will grow into a 5 foot shrub with pale yellow and purple flowers in the summer. Plant in direct sunlight with moist, well draining soil in moderate temperatures. This plant has an extensive root system that can grow 3-4 feet, and can be harvested in the fall after two full years of growth. You can remove the horizontal roots with a sharp spade and dry for later use or you can also use the stems for a tasty tea.

This is a re-print from the Herb Blurb Column I am writing in Equine Wellness Magazine, one of the largest publications in North America focused on natural and alternative therapies for horses.