Is liquorice healthy for you?

  • Why this classic old fashioned sweet is so bad for your health
  • This herbal tea should have a health warning for its effect on your blood pressure
  •  Revealed, liquorice’s dark secret

Lara loves going on Twitter.

And I admit, she shows me some really interesting stuff from time to time.

Just before Christmas there was a great ‘thread’ (AKA: string of Tweets) with a stark warning about the dangers of a classic type of sweet, which is also an ingredient in many herbal teas.

As you’ll see, it really should come with a health warning!

Why this ancient sweet is so bad for you

The Twitter thread was by a guy named Andy Tattersall.

Earlier in 2021, he discovered that he had systolic blood pressure scores that were dangerously over 200.

He couldn’t work out what might be causing it…

Until he was told of a connection between liquorice and high blood pressure.

He realised that he’d been eating about two bags a week as a treat after work, as a ‘healthier’ alternative to chocolate.

This is something a lot of people do, particularly at this time of year, when they’re trying to diet, reduce caffeine, or snack more healthily.

And it seems a sensible idea, too.

After all, liquorice is one of the oldest types of sweet in the world. The ancient Egyptians and Greeks took the extract of a plant called ‘glycyrrhiza’ and turned it into a sweet drink, which was drunk by Pharaohs and philosophers.

It was even used by their military on battlefields and during long marches to suppress their thirst.

It first came to British shores in 1562, introduced by monks, where it was blended with sugar by a chemist named George Dunhill, to create a product known as Pontefract cake.

After that, the extract became a popular sweet in the form of sticky black strips.

Despite its added sugar content, liquorice has maintained a reputation as a healthy natural substance, with no side effects, and a far better sweet snack to eat than the usual sweets and chocolates.

However, this is not the case…

Revealed, liquorice’s dark secret

Scientific research has shown that the glycyrrhizinic acid in liquorice can set off a chain reaction of biochemical events that lead to high blood pressure – and this can happen quite quickly too, within a few days of over-indulging.

Even back in the early days of Pontefract cake, there were reports of people falling ill from eating too much of it.

So this isn’t a new discovery by any means…

I have seen one study from way back in 1970 which centred on a 53-year-old man who suffered shortness of breath, weight gain, increased girth in the abdomen, headache, and weakness.

Until then he had been in good health and took no medications.


He had eaten 700 grams of liquorice over the preceding nine days – and this is what led to him being hospitalised!

Since then, there have been a number of research papers which indicate that just 25g per day (about one eighth of a typical bag) is enough to raise blood pressure to dangerous levels.

One of the American studies, published in 2012, has the rather terrifying title, ‘Licorice abuse: time to send a warning message.’ (That’s the American spelling, by the way, not a typo!)

It concludes that “The FDA should start regulating the use of this substance and create public awareness through the media about its health hazards.”

Here in the UK, there is still a low awareness of this problem, which was why Andy Tattersall’s Twitter thread got so many retweets and ‘likes’, and why Lara ended up seeing it.

I think it’s because a lot of people are shocked when they read such frightening things about an old fashioned sweet that comes from a plant root.

But I’ve had a look into it, and the NHS website does warn people to be careful of liquorice if they’re over 40 and have a history of heart disease or high blood pressure.

They say, “Eating more than 57g (2 ounces) of black liquorice a day for at least 2 weeks could lead to potentially serious health problems, such as an increase in blood pressure and an irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia).”

Now, of course, you might be thinking, “It’s fine Ray, I never touch liquorice.”

But wait…

The herbal tea that causes hypertension

It’s not only the liquorice that you get in bags of All-sorts that’s the problem.

Its sweet taste makes it a popular ingredient in many products to reduce bitterness.  These include beers, spirits, chewing gum, non-alcoholic drink substitutes and, particularly, herbal teas.

This is when it may become much more relevant to a lot of my readers, because I know I have at least two products that include liquorice as an ingredient, albeit in moderation.

So look out for those, too.

In 2015, there was a case study of a 45-year-old woman who complained to her doctor about hot flushes, sweating and headaches, which had been going on for four months. When examined, it was found that she had hypertension and mild hypokalaemia.

It turned out that she had been drinking up to six cups of liquorice tea every day as a ‘healthy’ substitute for caffeinated drinks.

She immediately stopped drinking the tea and soon the problem went away – just like that!

The study concluded that “Excessive consumption of liquorice tea and confectionary should be remembered as a potential cause of unexplained hypertension.”


While you shouldn’t avoid these teas altogether, bear in mind that drinking multiple cups of liquorice tea every day could lead to surprisingly serious health problems.

Of course, having one every now and then is absolutely find, so do not panic if you have the occasional cuppa.