Licorice Root, Gan Cao, 甘草, Glycyrrhiza uralensis

Disclaimer    For educational purposes only.  Do not use as medical advice

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Health Benefits
For: Sore throat • Cough • Wheezing • Leg spasms • Abdominal spasms • Irregular pulse • Sores • Abscess • Food poisoning • Pesticide poisoning • Herbicide poisoning
Attributes: Hypoglycemic • Antiarrhythmic • Expectorant • Antidiarrheal • Antiulcer • Hepatoprotective • Antiulcer • Immunostimulant • Antitussive • Antiviral • Detox • Demulcent • Anti-inflammatory • Laxative • Emmenagogue • Antimicrobial • Spasmolytic
Products (online examples)

Dried Root

Raw Root


Zhi Gan Cao Root

Dried Root



Zhi Gan Cao Pills

Research (sample)
Glycyrrhizin • Glycyrrhetic acid • Glycyrrhizinic acid • Enoxolone • Liquiritigenin • Isoliquiritigenin • Triterpene saponins • Isoflavonoids • Stilbenoids • Coumarins • Liqcoumarin • Umbelliferone

Photos (Click to enlarge)
Fun Facts
Other Names: Zhi Gan Cao • Adimaduram • Bekh-e-mahak • Bois doux • Kanpo • Lakritzenwurzel • Neekhiyu • Spanish licorice • Süssholzwurzel • Yashtimadhu
Plant Family: Fabaceae
The term Glycyrrhiza comes from the Greek glykys (“sweet”) and rhiza (“root”).  There are two main forms popular in Chinese medicine.Licorice is 50 times sweeter than sucrose and table sugar.  Glycyrrhizin is the chemical responsible for its sweetness. [ref]  Over 60% of licorice production is used in tobacco products. 

Licorice candy has very little, if any, licorice in it.Overdose of licorice (more than 100g) can lead to high blood pressure, muscle weakness, impaired breathing, heart papitations, and heart failure.[ref] Licorice Root is listed in the following pharmacopeias: German Commission E 1992 • Martindale Extra Pharmacopoeia 1972 • WHO 1999

American Licorice Glycyrrhiza lepidota, Chinese Licorice Glycyrrhiza uralensis, European Licorice Glycyrrhiza glabra, Chinese Licorice Glycyrrhiza inflata (rarely used), Russian Licorice (Glycyrrhiza echinata)
Glycyrrhiza uralensis is NOT in the USDA Plant Database.  Glycyrrhiza lepidota(American Licorice) and Glycyrrhiza glabra (European licorice) are both found in multiple states in the US.

USA: Glycyrrhiza uralensis is not found in the wild.   American licorice is native, but rarely used commercially.  G. Glabra and G. Uralensis are sweeter and more cultivated.

USDA Zones: 5-9

Native: China, Japan, Mongolia, Siberia

Habitats: Woodlands, meadows


Properties, Actions, Indications, etc.              Category: Tonify Qi 
English: Licorice Root    Pinyin:  Gan Cao      Pharmaceutical: Radix Glycyrrhizae Uralensis  
Organs: Heart • Lung • Spleen • Stomach (minor effects on all 12 organs)      Temperature: Neutral  
Taste: Sweet      Toxicity: Overdose at 100 grams within 1 week - may lead to high blood pressure, palpitations, heart failure. See caution section.  
Patterns: Spleen deficiency • Qi deficiency • Blood deficiency 
Actions:  Tonify spleen • Tonify qiTonify blood • Clear heat • Stop cough • Lubricate lungs • Stop wheezing • Reduce spasm • Relieve pain • Harmonize other herb effects
Indications: Coughing • Wheezing • Leg spasms • Abdominal spasms • Irregular pulse • Sores • Abscess
Contraindications: High blood pressure • Low potassium • Pork • Seaweed • Chinese cabbage • Anti-diabetic drugs • Diuretic drugs
Typical Dosage: 1.5g to 9 g          Guidelines
Parts Used: Root  
Other: Enters all 12 channels, often serve as envoy in a formula.
Combine With Purpose
Dang Shen Spleen deficiency: fatigue, poor appetite, mushy stool
Ma Huang + Xing Ren Wind cold: coughing and wheezing
Bai Shao Spasms: intestinal, abdominal, calf, and muscle spasms
Hai Piao Xiao + Wa Leng Zi Gastro pain, acid reflux, and heart burn
Jie Geng Clear heat, Sore throat, Laryngitis, Cough, Thick phlegm, and Detox
Jin Yin Hua Acne, skin rash
Pu Gong Ying Abscesses, boils
Xing Ren + Chuan Bei Mu Dry cough from heat
Lu Dou Antidote for toxins
Dui Yao Pairs Purpose In Formulas
Gan Cao + Hua Shi Clear heat, unblock urination, ease painful and difficult urination from strangury Liu Yi San • Fang Feng Tong Sheng San ⌕ 
Gan Cao + Jie Geng Clear heat, Sore throat, Laryngitis, Cough, Thick phlegm, and Detox Jie Geng Tang • Fang Feng Tong Sheng San  ⌕ 
Formulas with Gan Cao
Gan Cao (dried): Ba Zheng San • Bai He Gu Jin Tang • Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang • Bao Chan Wu You Fang • Bao Yin Jian • Bu Dai Wan • Bu Huan Jin Zheng Qi San • Bamg er Bo Dpi Uam Famg • Chai Ge Jie Ji Tang • Chai Hu Qin g Gan Tang • Chen Xiang Jiang Qi Tang • Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao San • Da Huang Zhe Chong Wan Da Yuan Yin • Da Huang Zhe Chong wan •Da Qin Jiao Tang • Dang Gui Yin Zi • Dao Chi Qing Xin Tang • Dao Chi San • Di Tan Tang • Ding Chuan Tang • E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang • Fang Feng Tong Sheng San • Fu Yuan Huo Xue Tang • Gan Cao Gan Jiang Fu Ling Bai Zhu Tang • Gan Mai Da Zao Tang • Ge Gen Huang lian Huang Qin Tang • Ge Gen Jia Ban Xia Tang • Ge Gen Tang • Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang • Gui Ling Gan Lu Yin • Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang • Gui Zhi Shao Yao Zhi Mu Tang • Hai Zao Yu Hu Tang • Huang Lian Wen Dan Tang • Huang Long Tang • Huang Tu Tang • Hui Chun Dan • Jian Pi Wan • Jiao ai Tang • Jie Geng Tang • Jiu Wei Qiang Huo Tang • Ju Pi Zhu Ru Tang • Li Yan Cha • Liang Ge San • Ling Gan Wu Wei Jiang Xin Tang • Ling Gui Zhu Gan TangLing Jiao Gou Teng Tang • Liu Yi San • Long Dan Xie Gan Tang • Ma Huang Lian Qiao Chi Xiao dou Tang • Mai Men Dong Tang • Mu Xiang Liu Qi Yin • Ping Gan Kai Yu Zhi Xie Tang • Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin • Qing Fei Tang • Qing Gu San • Qing Shu Yi Qi Tang • Qing Wen Bai Du Yin • Qing Zao Jiu Fei Tang • Ren Shen Bai Du San • Sang Ju Yin • Shao Yao Tang • Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang • Shi Wei Bai du San • Shi Wei San • Shu Jing Huo Xie Tang • Si Miao Yong an Tang • Su Zi Jiang Qi Tang • Suan Zao Ren Tang • Tiao Wei Cheng Qi Tang • Wan Dai Tang • Wen Pi Tang • Wen Dan Tang • Wen Jing Tang • Wu Hu Tang • Wu Ji San • Xian Fang Huo Ming Yin • Xiao Feng San • Xiao Ji Yin Zi • Xiao Xu Ming Tang • Xie Huang San • Xin Jia Huang Long Tang • Xin Yi Qing Fei Yin • Xing Su San • Xuan Yu Tong Jing Tang • Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang • Yang He Tang • Yang Yin Qing Fei Tang • Yi Gan San •  Yin Qiao San • Yue Bi Tang • Zai Zao San • Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang • Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang • Zhen Ren Huo Ming Yin • Zhen Ren Yang Zang Tang • Zhi Sou San 


Zhi Gan Cao (honey fried):  Ba Zhen Tang • Bai Hu Jia Ren Shen Tang • Bai Hu Tang • Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Tang • Ban Xia Xie Xin Tang • Bao Yuan Tang • Bu Fei e Jiao Tang • Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang • Chai Hu Gui Zhi Gan Jiang Tang • Chai Hu Gui Zhi Tang • chai Hu Shu Gan San • Da Ding Feng Zhu • Da Qing Long Tang • Da Ying Jian • Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San • Dang Gui di Huang Yin • Dang Gui Nian Tong Tang • Dang Gui Si Ni Tang • Diao Gan Tang • Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang • e Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang • Er Chen Tang • Fang Ji Huang Qi Tang • Fu Ling Gui Zhi Gan Cao Da Zao Tang •  Fu Zi Li Zhong Wan • Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang • Gan Cao Xie Xin Tang • Ge Gen Huang Lian Huang Qin Tang • Ge Gen Qin Lian Tang • Ge Gen Tang • Gui Pi Tang • Gui Zhi Gan Cao Tang • Gui Zhi Jia Fu Zi Tang • Gui Zhi Jia Ge Gen Tang • Gui Zhi Jia Hou Po Xing Zi Tang • Gui Zhi Jia Shao Yao Tang • Gui Zhi Ren Shen Tang • Gui Zhi Tang • Hei Xiao Yao San • Hou Po Wen Zhong Tang • Huang Lian Tang • Huang Qi Jian Zhong Tang • Huang Qin Tang • Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San • Jia Jian Wei Rui Tang •Jia Wei Xiao Yao San • Ju Yuan Jian • Juan Bi Tang • Li Zhong Wan • Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang • Liu Jun Xi Tang • Ma Huang Tang • Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang • Ping Wei San • Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang • Ren Shen Ge Jie San • Ren Shen Yang Rong Tang • San Jia Fu Mai Tang • Shao Yao Gan Cao Tang • Shen Ling Bai Zhu San • Sheng Hua Tang • Shen Jiang Xie Xin Tang • Sheng Ma Ge Gen Tang • Shi Pi Yin • Shi Quan Da Bu Tang •Si Jun Zi Tang • Si Ni Jia Ren Shen Tang • Si Ni San • Si Ni Tang • Tao He Cheng Qi Tang • Tong Mai si Ni Tang • Tong You Tang • Wei Ling Tang • Wen Jing Tang • Wu Ji San • Wu Tou Tang • Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang • Xiang Sha Yang Wei Tang • Xiang Su San • Xiao Chai Hu Tang • Xiao Ji Yin Zi • Xiao Jian Zhong Tang • Xiao Qing Long Tang • Xiao Yao San •Xie Bai San • Xin Yi San • Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang • Yan Hu Suo Tang • Yi Gong San • You Gui Yin • Zhen Ren Yang Zang Tang • Zhi Gan Cao Tang • Zhi Shi Xiao Pi Wan • Zhong Man Fen Xiao Wan • Zhu Sha An Shen Wan • Zhu Ye Shi Gao Tang • Zi Xue Dan • Zuo Gui Yin

Variations for Gan Cao

Raw (dried) Gan Cao: This is a common form used in formulas and is the focus of this blog.

Zhi Gan Cao: honey fried Gan Cao.  More effective than raw form in treating spasms and less effective in clearing heat and relieving food poisoning.  (How to make)  Zhi Gan Cao is used in 100+ Chinese formulas.

Gan Cao Shao: root tip – less used ingredient.  Promotes urination, treat strangury, purge fire.  It is sweet and cold.  It enters the liver, heart and spleen channels.  Decoct 1.5~4.5 g 

Be cautions with all medicine.
  • Licorice is incompatible with pork, seaweed and chinese cabbage
  • Do not use if pregnant, it is an emmenagogue
  • Licorice is incompatible with multiple herbs (see potential drug interactions)
  • Licorice contains glycyrrhizinic acid, which can be dangerous if more than 100 grams are taken within 1 week.  It can lead to high blood pressure and hormonal changes. [ref]
Potential Drug Interactions
Herbal medicine may interact negatively with pharma drugs and other herbs.  Examples below:

Herbs: ♦ Incompatible: Gan Sui • Da Ji • Yuan Hua • Hai Zao ♦ Antidiabetic: Mei Gui Hua, Du Zhong, Dang Shen, HuoLong Guo, rougui, Celery, Chamomile, Moringa Tree, Basil, Ku Gua, Hibiscus, Gou Qi Zi, Ju Hua, Xia Ku Cao, Dang Gui, Zhi Mu, Shi gao, Xuan Shen, Cang Zhu, Shan yao, Huang Qi, Artichoke

Pharma Drugs:♦ Diuretic: Acetazolamide, Aldactone, Amiloride Hydrochloride, Bumex, Diuril, Diulo, Demadex, Dyrenium, Edecrin, Enduron, Hydrodiuril, Hygroton, Lasix, Lozol, Methazolamide, Mykrox, Zaroxolyn ♦ Antidiabetic: Acarbose (Precose ) , Albiglutide (Tanzeum) , Alogliptin (Nesina) , Bromocriptine mesylate (Cycloset , Canaglifozin (Invokana) , Chlorpropamide (Diabinese) , Dapagliflozin (Farxiga) , Dulaglutide (Trulicity) , Empagliflozin (Jardiance) , Glimepiride (Amaryl) , glipizide (Glucotrol) , Glyburide (DiaBeta , Glynase) , Insulin , Linagliptin (Tradjenta) , Metformin , Miglitol (Glyset) , Nateglinide (Starlix) , Parlodel) , Pioglitazone (Actos) , Pramlintide , Repaglinide (Prandin) , Rosiglitazone (Avandia) , Saxagliptin (Onglyza) , Sitagliptin (Januvia) , Tol-Tab) , Tolazamide (Tolinase) , Tolbutamide (Orinase)

Bibliography: [3], [5], [15]

Information in this post came from many sources, including class notes, practitioners, websites, webinars, books, magazines, and editor's personal experience.  While the original source often came from historical Chinese texts,  variations may result from the numerous English translations.   Always consult a doctor prior to using these drugs.  The information here is strictly for educational purposes. 

Go to Bibliography


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