The anti-inflammatory activity of licorice, a widely used Chinese herb

Pharm Biol. 2017 Dec;55(1):5-18. doi: 10.1080/13880209.2016.1225775. Epub 2016 Sep 21.


Context: Increasing incidence and impact of inflammatory diseases have encouraged the search of new pharmacological strategies to face them. Licorice has been used to treat inflammatory diseases since ancient times in China.

Objective: To summarize the current knowledge on anti-inflammatory properties and mechanisms of compounds isolated from licorice, to introduce the traditional use, modern clinical trials and officially approved drugs, to evaluate the safety and to obtain new insights for further research of licorice.

Methods: PubMed, Web of Science, Science Direct and ResearchGate were information sources for the search terms 'licorice', 'licorice metabolites', 'anti-inflammatory', 'triterpenoids', 'flavonoids' and their combinations, mainly from year 2010 to 2016 without language restriction. Studies were selected from Science Citation Index journals, in vitro studies with Jadad score less than 2 points and in vivo and clinical studies with experimental flaws were excluded.

Results: Two hundred and ninety-five papers were searched and 93 papers were reviewed. Licorice extract, 3 triterpenes and 13 flavonoids exhibit evident anti-inflammatory properties mainly by decreasing TNF, MMPs, PGE2 and free radicals, which also explained its traditional applications in stimulating digestive system functions, eliminating phlegm, relieving coughing, nourishing qi and alleviating pain in TCM. Five hundred and fifty-four drugs containing licorice have been approved by CFDA. The side effect may due to the cortical hormone like action.

Conclusion: Licorice and its natural compounds have demonstrated anti-inflammatory activities. More pharmacokinetic studies using different models with different dosages should be carried out, and the maximum tolerated dose is also critical for clinical use of licorice extract and purified compounds.

Keywords: Glycyrrhiza glabra L.; Glycyrrhiza inflata Bat.; Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch.; flavonoid; glycyrrhetinic acid; glycyrrhizin.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / isolation & purification
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Inflammation / prevention & control*
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Maximum Tolerated Dose
  • Phytotherapy
  • Plant Extracts / adverse effects
  • Plant Extracts / isolation & purification
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacokinetics
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use*
  • Plants, Medicinal
  • Risk Assessment


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Plant Extracts