Liquorice or Mulethi
Liquorice or mulethi is used popularly as a condiment, but it is beyond just a flavouring agent as it contains medicinal properties which have been in practice for a long time. In Ayurveda, Sushruta Samhita mentions about the medicinal properties of Liquorice. Liquorice or mulethi, as it is called in Hindi, is also known in other ancient systems of medicine such as the traditional Chinese medicine, traditional Egyptian medicine, Roman medicine and Greek medicine, etc.
Habitat The plant can be found throughout the Southern Europe, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, China, Pakistan and India. Today, it is commercial produced in countries such as Russia, UK, USA, Italy, France, Spain, Germany and China. The plant belongs to Fabaceae family. The plant can be 2 m in length and the underground stems can also grow horizontally 2 meters. The rhizomes are the ones which are used for medicinal purposes. The colour of the roots is generally grey-brown exterior with yellow on the inside. The leaves of the plant are in alternate, pinnate with soft hairs that come in 4-7 pairs. Liquorice is a yearly plant with flowering and fruiting taking place during August to February.
The chemical constituents found in Liquorice include glycyrrhizin in the form of potassium and calcium salts of glycyrrhizic acid. Glycyrrhizin is known to be about 50 times sweeter than sucrose. Glycuronic acid is, however, very closely related to the hexose sugars, and glycyrrhetic acid has a haemolytic action like that of the saponins. Liqourice also contains glucose (up to 3.8 per cent.), sucrose (2.4 to 6.5 per cent.), bitter principles, resins, mannite, asparagines (2 to 4 per cent.) and fat (0.8 per cent). Flavonoid rich fractions from Liquorice include liquirtin, isoliquertin liquiritigenin and rhamnoliquirilin and five new flavonoids- glucoliquiritin apioside, prenyllicoflavone A, shinflavanone, shinpterocarpin and 1-methoxyphaseolin from dried roots.
- Anti-microbial activity: Liquorice root extracts have been tested against 13 species of bacteria, 2 species of fungi and also against viruses such as type A influenza virus, SARS virus and in some cases, HIV infected MT-4 cells to some extent.
- Anti-malarial activity: Malaria virus, in the recent times has been reported to have developed immunity against some of the widely used medicines, and there is an urgent need to develop a new drug which can act like a natural killer for the virus. Preliminary tests on Liquorice root extracts on malaria induced lab rats showed promising results as all the viruses were eliminated completely.
- Improves immunity: Liquorice root extracts have been tested to increase the lymphocyte and macrophage production. Liquorice root extracts have also been helpful in decreasing immunity related allergic reactions and in some autoimmune diseases.
- Memory improvement: An experiment on the learning and memory of mice was conducted by administering Liquorice root extracts. Results were significant enough to indicate that there was an improvement in the memory of mice. The root extracts had also decreased the effects of amnesia.
- Anti-ulcer activity: The root extracts of liquorice were studied for gastric ulcer controlling properties. The extracts were administered on rats with gastric ulcers and the results showed that there was an improvement in healing of ulcers and decrease in total acidity in the rats. The anti-oxidants present in the roots aided in improving the condition as well.
- Liver protection: Liver gets damaged due to release of chemicals called cytokines like tumour necrosis factor-alpha. These chemicals injure liver cells and also damage the DNA. The root extracts from mulethi help in counteracting these damages by supplying anti-oxidants. Apparently, Liquorice extracts were also effective in controlling diclofenac induced toxicity
Liquorice plant is a legume (related to beans and peas) that is native to southern Europe and parts of Asia. It is an herbaceous perennial, growing to 1 meter in height, with pinnate leaves about 7-15 centimeters long and having 9-17 leaflets. The flowers are 0.8-1.2 centimeters long; purple to pale whitish-blue in color, and produced in a loose inflorescence. It is mostly found growing wild in the southern zone of Europe and also in parts of Asia. However, today, the plant is cultivated in other parts of the world for commercial purposes. Besides being used as a flavoring in tobacco, confectionary, beverages, jams and marmalades, liquorice is also used for curing a number of ailments and diseases. It is particularly known for its use as an antiviral agent, in slowing down the progression of HIV infection.