An interesting experiment to demonstrate herbal properties involves gan cao. Get a piece of gan cao, known as licorice root, from a herbalist to suck on. Most people notice that licorice root does not taste like licorice candy. That is because the flavor of licorice candy comes from anise. Licorice was used traditionally to provide sweetness. That is the next thing that people notice, licorice root can be too sweet. It is so sweet people will spit it out because it is so overly sweet. Chinese herbalists saw value in extremes, and so licorice is a very important herb.
Licorice is valued in herbal medicine for the odd sweet flavor that helps it harmonize the functions of other herbs. Rarely used alone, it is the ingredient that helps other herbs do their jobs. Licorice is also important as an antidote for many toxic herbs, and has been shown to be helpful in controlling diabetes.
Licorice gets its sweetness from the compound glycyrrhizin, which is 50 times sweeter than sucrose, or table sugar. There are some herbal formulas where licorice takes a central role in the formulation as opposed to the usual harmonizing role. In many of those cases a special version of licorice called zhi gan cao is used. Known as prepared licorice, zhi gan cao is licorice root fried in honey to further intensify the sweetness.
Licorice can be a very powerful medicine. It is important to talk a nationally board certified herbalist to see what you need. Gan cao is commonly found in many formulas, and makes it possible for herbs to work together as a proper herbal medicine.
— David Bock
This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"
David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine
Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066