Now, licorice happens to be one of my favorite therapeutic herbs: it is one of those plants one could talk all day about and still not have covered its many properties and applications: it is (among other things) an adrenal tonic, an anti-emetic in low doses and an emetic in high, an anti-inflammatory (one of the best actually), a diuretic, a demulcent, an expectorant, a hemostatic, a mild laxative, a rejuvenative, and a sedative. In ayurveda, it has the unique attribute of being used to treat kapha dosha accumulations while also increasing the quantity of kapha dosha, owing to the interesting fact that while kapha is increased with licorice's use, the pharmacological activity of the herb causes kapha to lose its properties of adhesiveness and denseness and become liquefied, and thus more easily pacified and removed. One of the truly "great" medical plants!
So one is impelled - compelled, in fact - to wonder: what could behoove the United States Food and Drug Administration to issue such a warning, particularly given that agency's "inefficiency" (that is the most polite word that comes to mind) in policing other, immeasurably more dangerous substances purveyed to the public? The potential devastation wrought by the over-the-counter pharmaceutical Prilosec comes immediately to mind, as does the FDA failure to adequately note the death-dealing effect of combining the popular drug with certain widely consumed anticoagulants.
Illustratively, according to a United States Senate finance committee investigation, Merck & Company's withdrawal of the analgesic Vioxx (in 2005) represented a "profound regulatory failure by an agency incapable of protecting America" from another dangerous drug. One of the FDA's own staff, drug researcher David Graham, amplified that view, stating that “I would argue that the FDA as currently configured is incapable of protecting America against another Vioxx,” and who had early on warned that the arthritis drug had been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. US Senate hearings have cited five other potentially lethal prescription drugs still available to prescribers and their prospective victims: the acne drug Accutane, the weight loss drug Meridia, the anti-cholesterol drug Crestor, the pain reliever Bextra, and the asthma drug Serevent.
Why is this? Because, according to researcher Graham, a culture within the agency prevails wherein the pharmaceutical giants ("Big Pharma") are viewed not as subjects for investigation and regulatory oversight but as "clients" whose economic health the FDA exists to safeguard, promote and augment.
So, what is the FDA doing warning its public of the dangers of Licorice?
The article notes that Licorice contains a compound called glycyrrhizin, a sweet phytochemical that comes from the root of licorice shrubs, which can lower potassium levels, leading to cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension, edema and congestive heart failure. One is forced to question how the FDA arrived at this epiphany, given that the effects of licorice (Glycorrhiza glabra) as well as its contraindications have been known to traditional medicine for hundreds - if not thousands - of years. Every first year student of ayurveda (at least, my own students in Ayurvedic Herbology I) are thoroughly aware of the fact that Yashti Madhu ("sweet stick" as it is known in medical Sanskrit) is contraindicated in a host of conditions, including those cited by the FDA.
But perhaps all about Licorice is not so black: the article goes on to point out that "Thankfully, nearly all of the licorice candy in the U.S. isn't made from actual licorice root [but from] Anise oil, which mimics the taste and smell of licorice. Still, the FDA warns that adults over forty years old with heart conditions probably shouldn't over-indulge.
Has someone at the FDA been perhaps peeking into the Bhavamishra's "Bhavaprakash Nighantu?"
Article provided by William Courson, BVSA, D. Ayur., an Ayurvedic Practitioner, faculty member and the College Dean of Institutional Development at Sai Ayurvedic College & Ayurvedic Wellness Center.