Guo Lao, “venerable national treasure”


Guo Lao, “venerable national treasure” is the nickname given to licorice (Glycerrhiza uralensis or G. glabra) because of its popularity and its ability to harmonize other herbs in a formula.  The actual Chinese name for this sweet rhizome is Gan Cao.  This herb tonifies Qi, is anti-inflammatory, and has adaptogen-like qualities, helping to regulate the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems.  It clears heat and toxicity while acting as a moistening agent to tissues.

For the respiratory system Gan Cao soothes sore throats, is antitussive for dry, spasmodic coughs, and is moistening to the lungs in both hot and cold conditions.  For the digestive system it is soothing, used for gastritis, ulcers, IBS and IBD.  As an immune normalizing agent it is used in cancer therapies as well as for allergies and auto-immune conditions.  It helps stabilize blood sugar and increases cortisol so is helpful in conditions in which cortisol is depleted.  Topically it is used as an antiviral agent for skin conditions such as shingles. Licorice is contraindicated when fluid accumulation such as edema is present, in hypertension, and in kidney disease.

One of the ways licorice is used in Chinese cooking is as part of a marinade for poultry and meat.  Use a base of soy sauce and white wine.  Add to this sliced onions, ginger, cloves, orange peel, and licorice, and allow the meat or poultry to marinade several hours or overnight.  Once the meat has been removed the marinade may be cooked and poured over the meat as a sauce.  It adds a mild, sweet flavor while imparting it’s medicinal properties.

Bevin Clare