Published 21 November 2011


Liquorice named “Medicinal plant of the year 2012”

Frankfurt, Germany, 21st November 2011—Liquorice has been selected as “Medicinal plant of the year 2012” because of its paramount importance to human well-being world-wide. 

A plate from Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz published in 1885 depicting liquorice.

The selection was made by a panel from the University of Würzburg, WWF and TRAFFIC and will be announced today at an event organized by WWF Germany. 

“Liquorice is special because it can quickly soothe sore throats and coughs and was used centuries ago to treat coughing, hoarseness and asthma by Ancient Greek and Egyptian physicians,” said Professor Johannes Mayer, an expert on the history of medicinal botany at the University of Würzburg. 

According to the mediaeval German nun, Hildegard von Bingen, or Saint Hildegard, liquorice can help lift peoples’ moods and has anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antispasmodic actions, and can also protect mucous membranes. 

The liquorice plant is a woody shrub in the Fabaceae (pea family), and grows up to a metre tall. The three species most commonly used originate from Asia, with relatives found across the Mediterranean to East Asia, the Americas and Australia. 

It is widely cultivated for its medicinal properties, and also for use in beverages. 

Only the root is utilized, from which a wide variety of compounds—400 to date—have been isolated. Among the most important is glycyrrhizin, a chemical that possesses almost 50 times the sweetening power of cane sugar. 

Today, liquorice is used as an important ingredient “gan cao” in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), while in Germany, Europe’s major consumer and trader in medicinal plants, around 500 tonnes of liquorice are imported each year, 100 of them consumed domestically in medicinal teas. 

The root is also used in confectionary and in many herbal liqueurs. In Japan, liquorice is used mainly in medicine although also as an ingredient of cosmetics.

“The healing properties of liquorice make it a key constituent of any natural pharmacy,” said Susanne Honnef, a conservation expert at WWF Germany. 

“In recent years, the German public has become increasingly aware of the intrinsic value of natural medicines, and as a result the medicinal plant trade has experienced a true renaissance.” 

“However, this can place pressure on wild plant populations, placing them in danger of over-exploitation.” 

WWF and TRAFFIC are trying to counteract such pressures, and in 2010 helped introduce the FairWild Standard, an international standard to ensure the wild collection of medicinal and other plants is carried out sustainably. 

The FairWild Standard combines strict rules to ensure environmentally sound, socially just and economically sustainable collection of wild plant resources, and serves as a basis for certification of plant products and as a basis for the development of laws and regulations governing their trade. 

“The FairWIld Standard was a major step forward in securing the sustainability of wild plant products and consumers can purchase FairWild certified products with confidence,” said Roland Melisch, Programme Director with TRAFFIC. 

“As well as helping producers and to develop strategies to ensure sustainable use of resources, those helping implement the FairWild Standard are also committed to ensuring the benefits of trade are distributed fairly, right down to the low-earner gatherers, who are often those who most heavily depend on the income for their livelihoods.”