Chinese: 甘草

Pinyin: Gān Cǎo

Parts used: Dried root and rhizome

TCM category: Tonic herbs for Qi Deficiency

TCM nature: Neutral

TCM taste(s): Sweet

Meridian affinity: SpleenStomachHeartLung

Scientific name: Glycyrrhiza uralensis

Other names: Licorice

Use of liquorice (Gan Cao) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Remove impurities, wash, soak in water, cut thick slices, dry.

Dosage: 2 - 10g

Main actions according to TCM*: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which liquorice may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Palpitations Coughing Spasmodic pain Abcesses Sore throat Sputum Abdominal pain

Contraindications*: Licorice should not be used when there is Excess Dampness, nausea or vomiting and generally should be used with caution by those who tend to retain water. People with heart conditions or high blood pressure should avoid ingesting large amounts of liquorice as it can increase blood pressure. Prolonged use (6 weeks) of excessive doses (50g/day) can lead to pseudoaldosteronism.

Common TCM formulas in which liquorice are used*:

Key TCM concepts behind liquorice (Gan Cao)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), liquorice are plants that belong to the 'Tonic herbs for Qi Deficiency' category. Tonic herbs are used for patterns of Deficiency, when one lacks one of the 'Four Treasures' (Qi, Blood, Yin and Yang). Qi tonics are typically sweet and they tend to enter the Spleen and Lungs because these organs are most involved with the production of Qi.

Furthermore liquorice are plants that are Neutral in nature. This means that liquorice typically don't affect the balance in your body. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Eating too many "Hot" (Yang) ingredients can lead to an imbalance whereby one has a Yang excess. The inverse is true as well: too many "Cold" (Yin) ingredients can lead to a Yin excess. The Neutral nature of liquorice means that you don't have to worry about that!

Liquorice also taste Sweet. The so-called "five elements" theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Sweet ingredients like liquorice tend to slow down acute reactions and detoxify the body. They also have a tonic effect because they replenish Qi and Blood.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what organs and meridians they target. As such liquorice are thought to target the Spleen, the Stomach, the Heart and the Lung. In TCM the Spleen assists with digestion, blood coagulation and fluid metabolism in the body. The Stomach on the other hand is responsible for receiving and ripening ingested food and fluids. It is also tasked with descending the digested elements downwards to the Small Intestine. In addition to regulating blood flow, the Heart is believed to be the store of the "spirit" which basically refers to someone's vitality. In addition to performing respiration, the Lungs are thought to be a key part of the production chain for Qi and the body fluids that nourish the body.

Research on liquorice(Gan Cao)

In vivo and clinical studies have reported beneficial effects of both licorice and glycyrrhizin consumption including anti-ulcer, anti-viral, and hepatoprotective responses.1

Flavonoids extracted from Glycyrrhiza uralensis may have a potential antidepressant-like effect for chronic variable stress induced depression2


1. Isbrucker RA, Burdock GA. ( 2006). Risk and safety assessment on the consumption of Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza sp.), its extract and powder as a food ingredient, with emphasis on the pharmacology and toxicology of glycyrrhizin. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. , 46(3):167-92. Epub 2006 Aug 1.

2.Z Zhao, W Wang, H Guo, D Zhou. (2008). Antidepressant-like effect of liquiritin from Glycyrrhiza uralensis in chronic variable stress induced depression model rats. Behavioural brain research, Elsevier

Use of liquorice (Gan Cao) as food

Liquorice are also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Liquorice creme brulee or Licorice Caramel Candy.