Gan Cao (Licorice Root) - Chinese Herbal Medicine

Chinese Name: Gan Cao
English Name: Licorice Root

Clinical Usage and Indications

  • Tonifies the spleen and augments qi - spleen deficiency w/shortness of breath, fatigue, loose stools (si jun zi tong).
  • Qi and/or blood deficiency w/irregular pluse or palpitations (Zhi Gan Cao Tang).
  • Moistens the lungs and stops cough - heat/cold in the lungs (Ma Xing Shi Gan Tang).
  • Clears heat and toxic fire (raw) - carbuncles, sores, sore throat due to fire toxin (internally or topically).
  • Alleviates pain and stops spasms - abdomen or legs (Shao Yao Gan Cao Tang).
  • Often used to harmonize and/or moderate characteristics of other herbs.
  • Antidote for toxic substances (internally and topically).

Functional Groups (Click for Summary/Study Notes)

Dosage and Preparation Notes

  • Dosage: 2-12g

Associated Temperature and Taste

Cautions and Contraindications

  • Avoid with excess dampness, nausea, vomiting.
  • Incompatible with Gan Sui, Da Ji, Yuan Hua, Hai Zao (although used in some formulas with Hai Zao).
  • If taken for long periods of time, may cause hypertension and/or edema.

Staff Clinician Notes

  • Affects all 12 meridians, but most used with the heart, lung, spleen, and stomach meridians.
  • When raw it has more neutral properties, when dry-fried it is more warming.

Herbal Formulas Which Include This Herb

Below you will find Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal formulas which contain this particular herb (in alphabetical order). You may click on the name of the formula for more details or click on any of the products from our store to read usage information or purchase a particular formula.

  • Bai He Gu Jin Wan

    Formula Functions...  

    For lung and kidney yin deficiency with signs such as dry cough, possibly with blood streaked sputum, dry and sore throat, heat in the five palms, nightsweats, wheezing.

    The Pulse will be thin and rapid and the Tongue will be red with little coating.


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  • Ban Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Wan

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  • Ban Xia Xie Xin Wan

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  • Bi Yan Wan

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  • Chen Xiang Hua Qi Wan

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  • Chu Kou Wei Wan

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  • Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao Wan

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  • Du Huo Ji Sheng Wan

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  • Er Chen He San Zi Yang Qin Wan

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  • Fang Feng Tong Sheng Wan

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  • Fang Ji Huang Qi Wan

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  • Gan Bing Zhi Ben Wan

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  • Gan Mai Da Zao Wan

    Formula Functions...  

    Used for anxiety/depression/manic issues with a tendency towards losing self-control (crying fits, excessive yawning, etc.).  This set of symptoms is known as restless organ disorder in TCM.  General symptoms are disorientation, crying spells, depression, fitful sleep, excessive yawning, anxiety, possible night sweats and other yin deficient signs.  May be used for menopause or similar post-partum issues.

    The Pulse will be thin and rapid and the Tongue will be red with a sparse tongue coating.


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  • Hui Chun Wan

    Formula Functions...  

    Most often used for childhood convulsions (possibly with wheezing, nausea, nighttime crying, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive mucus/saliva) or other conditions that involve fever, impaired or loss of consciousness, irritability, restlessness such as seizure disorders, meningitis, measles, and gastroenteritis among others.


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  • Jia Wei Xiao Yao Wan

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  • Jian Pi Wan

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  • Jiao Ai Wan

    Formula Functions...  

    This formula is generally a tonifying agent with herbs to invigorate the blood it is used for excessive menstruation, excessive spotting between periods or bleeding during pregnancy.  Other uses would be uterine bleeding and restless fetus syndrome.

    The Tongue is generally pale with a thin white coat and the Pulse will be thin and frail.


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  • Jin Gu Die Da Wan

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  • Long Dan Xie Gan Wan

    Formula Functions...  

    Hypochondriac pain, bitter taste in the mouth, irritability, easily angered, headache, dizziness, red, and possibly sore, eyes, diminished hearing and/or swollen sensation in ears/head.  May have urinary symptoms such as painful, hot urination perhaps with swollen genitalia.  Women may have leukorrhea with a strong odor.

    The Pulse will be wiry, rapid and forceful and the Tongue will be red with a yellow tongue coating.


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  • Mu Xiang Shun Qi Wan

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  • Qi Xue Da Bu Wan

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  • Ren Shen Bai Du Wan

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  • Shen Ling Bai Zhu Wan

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  • Shen Tong Zhu Yu Wan

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  • Shi Quan Da Bu Wan

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  • Su Zi Jiang Qi Wan

    Formula Functions...  

    Cough with watery, copious sputum, breathing issues such as wheezing, asthma, shortness of breath (particularly difficulty inhaling), chest oppression.  Possibly signs of kidney qi/yang deficiency such as edema, weak low back and/or legs, fatigue.

    The Tongue will have a white coating that can be either greasy or slippery.


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  • Suan Zao Ren Tang Pian

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  • Te Xiao Zao Ren An Mian Wan

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  • Wen Jing Tang Wan

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  • Wen Jing Tang Wan

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  • Wu Ji Bai Feng Wan

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  • Wu Lin San Wan

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  • Wu Ling San Wan

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  • Xi Guan Jie Xiao Tong Wan

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  • Xiang Sha Yang Wei Wan

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  • Xiao Feng Wan

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    Itchy and red skin lesions, possibly with weeping, comprising such conditions as psoriasis, eczema, acne, dermatitis, etc.

    The Pulse will generally be forceful, floating and rapid and the Tongue will have a yellow or white tongue coating.


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  • Xiao Qing Long Wan

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  • Xue Fu Zhu Yu Wan

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  • Yin Qiao Wan

    Formula Functions...  

    Common cold, flu, general immunity, fever w/slight or no chills, headache, desire for fluids, cough, sore throat.

    Pulse will be floating and rapid and the Tongue will have a red tip with a thin white or yellow tongue coating.


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  • Yu Quan Wan

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