Gan Cao - Licorice Root

TCM Materia Medica

Gan Cao TCM Herb Classifications and Usages

The TCM herb "gan cao" which in english is Gan Cao herb"licorice root", is categorized within the "herbs that tonify qi" functional grouping. It is thought to enter the gall bladder, heart, kidney, large intestine, liver, lung, pericardium, small intestine, spleen, stomach, triple heater and urinary bladder channels and exhibits neutral (ping), sweet (gan) and warm (wen) taste/temperature properties.

Dosages and preparations will vary according to each individual and the overall approach of a formula, but generally this herb has the following dosage and/or preparation guidelines:

  • Dosage: 2-12g

Of many possible clinical applications, it may be considered to influence the following issues/symptoms:

  • 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).

Gan Cao has some precautions to be considered (see our precautions list).

  • 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.

Our clinical staff have made the following notes, regarding gan cao:

  • 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.

Gan Cao may potentially be used, in coordination with a well tailored formula (in most cases), to influence the following conditions: abdominal pain, fatigue, leg pain and/or sore throat

While it may not always be included depending on the manufacturer or herbalist making the formula, gan cao is generally included in the following 63 formulas:

ViewBai He Gu Jin Wan (Lily Bulb to Preserve the Metal)

General yin deficiency signs may present as night sweats, heat in the soles and palms, and flusing. Cough/wheezing, possible blood in the sputum, dry and sore throat may present from lung yin and qi…

ViewBan Xia Bai Zhu Tian Ma Wan (Pinellia, Atractylodis and Gastrodia Combination)

Nausea with possible vomitting from combination of damp with liver qi stagnation causing rebellious qi. Dizziness, migraines, and vertigo from damp and liver wind rising. Heavy or oppressed sensati…

ViewBan Xia Xie Xin Wan (Pinellia Drain Epigastrium Pills)

Distension and fullness of the epigastrium usually without pain. Borborygmus (gurgling sounds), and diarrhea if spleen qi is affected. Vomiting with possible dry heaves due to rebellious stomach qi…

ViewBi Yan Wan (Nose Inflammation Tablets)

For acute or chronic rhinitis resulting from the combination of lung qi deficiency and phlegm accumulation. Runny nose, sneezing, congestion due to phlegm. Can be used to treat for general cold or …

ViewChai Hu Gui Zhi Gan Jiang Wan (Bupleurum, Cinnamon Twig and Ginger Decoction)

Shaoyang disorder with water accumulation - A modification of xiao chai hu tang with gui zhi and gan jiang to work with mixed pattern cases of "heat above, cold below".  Generally for patients with e…

ViewChen Xiang Hua Qi Wan (Aquilaria Qi Transforming Pills)

For spleen qi deficiency with damp heat accumulation in the lower.  The spleen system is effectively the western version of the digestive system.  The spleen is responsible for extracting the energy …

ViewChuan Xiong Cha Tiao Wan (Ligusticum Tea Pills)

Headaches, primarily from wind-cold (but used with wind-heat/wind-damp), with neck stiffness, muscle aches and/or nasal discharge. In certain cases may be useful for migraines, frequent headaches - …

ViewChu Kou Wei Wan (Chu Kou Wei Wan)

Acid reflux and/or burning sensation in the epigastrium, throat, or mouth from stomach fire. Ulcers, sores, or other types of abcess in the mouth due to persistent stomach heat. Constant sense of h…

ViewDan Gui Yin Zi (Tangkuei Decoction)

Exterior wind skin conditions with underlying blood deficiency - eczema (particularly dry and flaky), hives  (urticaria), neurodermatitis, psoriasis, dry skin, itchy skin that is generally worse at…

ViewDing Chuan Wan (Calm Wheezing Pills)

Directs the lung qi downward and clears phlegm heat from the lungs.  Typically used for the condition of wind cold blocking the exterior with internal accumulation of phlegm heat - which may involve …

ViewDu Huo Ji Sheng Wan (Solitary Hermit Teapills)

For chronic pain due to obstruction (bi zheng) with liver and kidney deficiency. For lower back pain often with weakness and/or pain in the knees. For arthritis, especially the type affected by col…

ViewEr Chen He San Zi Yang Qin Wan (Two Aged Herbs & Three Seeds Nursing Pills)

Modified version of er chen wan - formula for clearing phlegm in both acute and chronic cases - seasonal colds and flus with phlegm, chronic wet cough, sinus issues and more physical signs such as di…

ViewFang Feng Tong Sheng Wan (Ledebouriella Pills to Sagely Unblock)

High fever with aversion to cold. Thick phlegm that may be both in sinus and chest. Vertigo or dizziness that is caused by excess heat. Rashes, carbuncles, and other types of skin disorders that…

ViewFang Ji Huang Qi Wan (Stephania and Astragalus Teapills)

Wind damp / wind edema (feng shui, literally "wind water") patterns, generally acute - heavy sensation of the body, superficial edema, difficulty with urination - idiopathic edema, ascites. Weak wei…

ViewGan Bing Zhi Ben Wan (Liver Disease Recovery Pills)

Irritibility or easily prone to outburts or anger. Liver disease such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, fatty liver. Jaundice - yellowing of the skin, brittle nails, pale complexion.

ViewGan Mai Da Zao Wan (Licorice, Wheat, and Jujube Formula)

Anxiety/depression/manic issues with a tendency towards losing self-control (crying fits, excessive yawning, etc.) that result from the combination of heart yin deficiency and liver qi stagnation. I…

ViewGan Mao Ling (Miraculous Cold Pills)

Common cold and flu patterns, particularly at the early stages. Can be used in lieu of actual bacterial or viral infection as long as flu or cold like symptoms are manifest.

ViewGe Gen Wan (Kudzu Decoction)

Wind-cold invasion with upper neck and back pain - cold or flu, mild fever, no sweating, stiffness.

ViewGe Xia Zhu Yu Wan (Drive Out Blood Stasis Below The Diaphragm Decoction)

For blood stasis below the diaphgram - abdominal masses, liver and spleen masses/swelling, colitis. A range of liver disorders are possibly applicable - cirrhosis, hepatic hemangioma, hepatitis, jau…

ViewHui Chun Wan (Recovery Special Pill)

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 …

ViewJiang Tang Wan (Lower Blood Sugar Pill)

Nourish the yin and tonify qi with particular emphasis on diabetes (primarily type II, but in some cases type I would benefit as well) when the underlying tcm diagnosis fits.  Symptoms may include st…

ViewJian Pi Wan (Strengthen Spleen Pills)

For stomach and spleen qi deficiency with dampness that has potentially generated mild interior-heat - diarrhea, abdominal pain, poor appetite, epigastric pain. May be used in early pregnancy for mo…

ViewJiao Ai Wan (Ass-Hide Gelatin and Mugwort Formula)

Uterine bleeding/spotting. Abdominal/Uterine/Ovarian cramping. Irregular menstruation, history of miscarriage - due to spleen failing to regulate the blood.

ViewJia Wei Gui Pi Wan (Augmented Restore The Spleen Decoction)

A combination of jia wei xiao yao wan and gui pi wan - similar effects but with more spleen qi and blood tonification. A range of stress related issues - essentially mixes of stagnation with underly…

ViewJia Wei Xiao Yao Wan (Free and Easy Wanderer Pills)

Derived from the base formula, xiao yao wan, an important formula for liver qi stagnation with herbs added to clear heat. Liver qi stagnation - menstrual issues, painful cycles, irregular cycles, br…

ViewJing Fang Bai Du Wan (Schizonepeta and Siler Powder to Overcome Pathogenic Influences)

Early stages of disease arising from wind cold damp - common cold, flu, bronchitis, mumps. Early stages of skin diseases - boils, carbuncles, eczema, dermatitis with the right underlying factors. M…

ViewJin Gu Die Da Wan (Tendon and Bone Injury Healing)

Bruising, sprains, swelling from soft tissue injuries. Broken or bruised bones. For post surgery recovery. For any other type of acute trauma to the body.

ViewJuan Bi Wan (Remove Painful Obstruction Decoction)

Wind-cold-damp bi syndromes in qi deficient patients - joint pain possibly with heaviness of the limbs that generally improves with movement.  Rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gouty arthritis.  …

ViewLong Dan Xie Gan Wan (Gentiana Purge Liver Formula)

Hypochondriac pain, bitter taste in the mouth, irritability, easily angered, headache, dizziness, red, and possibly sore, eyes resulting from liver fire rising. Urinary symptoms such as painful, hot…

ViewMai Men Dong Yin Zi Wan (Ophiopogon and Trichosanthes Combination)

Lung and stomach yin deficiency - this is a modified version of Mai Men Dong Tang - fei wei (lung atrophy) syndrome in Chinese Medicine - dry cough from yin fluid damage, generally arises from defici…

ViewMu Xiang Shun Qi Wan (Saussurea Qi Promoting Pills)

Bloating, lower abdominal pain, sluggish bowels. Acid reflux/heartburn, nausea with possible vomitting after meals.

ViewNei Xiao Luo Li Wan (Internally Reducing Cervical Lymphadenitis Pills)

Phlegm obstructions - generally benign masses, lumps, swellings such as lymph nodules, breast cysts, thyroid nodules, goiter, ovarian cysts, fibroids, etc. If used, it may often be combined with dee…

ViewPing Wei Wan (Calm the Stomach Powder)

Damp cold stagnation in the middle jiao - poor appetite, indigestion, gastritis, loose stools, heavy sensation of the limbs, fatigue. Can be used to induce labor with appropriate underlying diagnose…

ViewPu Ji Xiao Du Wan (Universal Benefit Decoction To Eliminate Toxin)

Acute febrile disorder (wind-heat & damp-phlegm) of the head - strong fever and chills, burning pain of head and face, red and/or swollen eyes, sore throat, aversion to cold, dryness, thirst.  …

ViewQing Bi Wan (Clear The Nose Decoction)

Sinus issues arising from damp-heat pattern in Chinese Medicine - yellow and sticky discharge, sinusitis, rhinitis acute or chronic. Sinus headache, decreased olfactory sense.  

ViewQing Fei Wan (Clear The Lungs Decoction)

Clears heat and phlegm and replenishes lung yin - chronic cough, generally with thicker yellow mucus, sore throat. With the right factors aspiration pneumonia, pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis,…

ViewQing Shu Yi Qi Tang Wan (Clear Summer Heat and Augment the Qi)

Please note that there are two formulas with the same name but slightly different compositions.  One is from Wang's Wen Re Jing Wei and tonifies the yin more strongly, the other (which is the one dis…

ViewQi Xue Da Bu Wan (Nourish Qi & Blood Pills)

Fatigue, lethargy, sensation of feeling heavy or cold. Low appetite, bloating, borborygmus, loose bowels. Impotence, infertility, low libedo. Insomnia, night sweats, vivid dreams, nightmares.

ViewRen Shen Bai Du Wan (Ginseng Detoxification Pills)

Coming Soon...

ViewSha Shen Mai Dong Wan (Glehnia and Ophiopogonis Decoction)

Important formula for stomach yin deficiency - benefits the stomach and the lungs - a range of digestive issues (gastritis, epigastric pain), possibly with dry throat, thirst and/or cough. Diabetes …

ViewShen Ling Bai Zhu Wan (Ginseng, Poria & Atractylodes Pills)

Diarrhea, loose stools, or mucus/greasy stools from damp accumulation in the spleen/stomach. Borborygmus, low appetite, fatigue, and/or pale complexion resulting from spleen qi deficiency. Colitis,…

ViewShen Tong Zhu Yu Wan (Remove Stagnant Blood from a Painful Body Pills)

Qi and Blood stagnation blocking the channels and collaterals - pain in the extremities, shoulder pain, elbow pain, leg pain. With the right underlying patterns - possibly useful for fibromyalgia, c…

ViewShi Quan Da Bu Wan (Ten Tonics Nourishment Pills)

Coming Soon...

ViewShu Jing Huo Xue Wan (Relax The Channels and Invigorate The Blood Decoction)

Primarily used for blood stasis with wind-damp in the channels and collaterals characterized by internal deficiency with external excesses - joint pain, muscle aches, numbness and/or pain in the lowe…

ViewSuan Zao Ren Wan (Sour Jujube Decoction)

Shen related issues when arising from liver blood deficiency - anxiety, insomnia. Menopausal heat contributing to sleep and/or anxiety issues. Palpitations, night sweats, and general dryness.

ViewSu Zi Jiang Qi Wan (Perilla Fruit Pill to Direct Qi Downward)

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 …

ViewTe Xiao Zao Ren An Mian Wan (Peaceful Sleep Tablets)

Insomnia, vivid dreaming, nightmares. Acute emotional instability. May be used to treat convulsions or spasms that are caused by a combination of blood deficiency with wind.

ViewWen Jing Wan (Warm the Menses Formula)

Irregular menstruation, amenorrhea, excessive uterine bleeding or spotting between cycles.  Infertility, history of miscarriage. 

ViewWu Ji Bai Feng Wan (Black Chicken White Phoenix Pills)

Coming Soon...

ViewWu Lin San Wan (Gardenia & Hoelen Formula)

Painful urination with cloudy or dark urine due to heat. Possibly blood in the urine -bright red blood not occult.

ViewXian Fang Huo Ming Yin Wan (Immortals Formula For Sustaining Life)

Generally for short-term use with early stage heat toxins - sores, carbuncles, boils, styes, acne.  Swollen and painful skin lesions with other heat signs (chills/fever).  Breast abscesses, mastitis…

ViewXiang Sha Yang Wei Wan (Aucklandia Amomi Nurture Stomach Pills)

Low appetite, apathy towards eating due to spleen qi deficiency. Acid reflux, indigestion, epigastric pain, tendency to feel full even with small quantities of food. Food stagnation due to overeati…

ViewXiang Yin Wan (Golden Voice Pills)

Benefits the yin and qi of the lungs, clears heat and wind - acute and/or chronic throat and/or voice issues from overuse, illness, smoking, etc.  Symptoms may include difficulty speaking, hoarseness…

ViewXiao Feng Wan (Clear Wind Pill)

Itchy and red skin lesions, possibly with weeping -psoriasis, eczema, acne, etc. Topical allergic response, dermatitis -poison ivy, oak, sumac. Acute [allergic] edema in the limbs.  

ViewXiao Qing Long Wan (Minor Blue Dragon Pills)

Cold/flu like symptoms such as aversion to cold, cough, clear watery phlegm -from exterior wind cold invasion. Wheezing, heavy sensation, edema due to interior water accumulation.

ViewXi Guan Jie Bi Tong Wan (Knee Joint Pain Relief)

Arthritis from damp heat in Chinese Medicine terms. Knee issues with kidney and liver systems involvement. Lower body pain and/or inflammation - hips, knees, ankles, toes especially when the pain m…

ViewXin Yi Qing Fei Wan (Magnolia Flower Drink To Clear The Lungs)

Colds and/or allergies with heat signs (yellow mucus and/or fever, etc.). Chronic sinus congestions / issues, chronic sinusitis, chronic rhinitis, loss of smell. Nasal polyps with the right underly…

ViewXin Yi Wan (Magnolia Flower Powder)

Colds and/or allergies with cold signs (white mucus and/or no fever, etc.). Chronic sinus congestions / issues, chronic sinusitis, chronic rhinitis, loss of smell. Headaches from sinus congestion.

ViewXue Fu Zhu Yu Wan (Blood Stasis Relief Pills)

Qi and Blood stagnation - pain, cardiovascular issues, physical organ issues. Coronary artery disease, angina and other cardiovascular issues. Hepatitis and other liver function issues. Migraines,…

ViewYi Gan Wan (Restrain The Liver Powder)

Anxiety, palpitations, easily frightened, alternating fevers/chills; heat from deficiency in the liver.Originally designed for Children who had issues such as anger, fright, fevers, insomnia, digesti…

ViewYin Qiao Wan (Honeysuckle and Forsythia Formula)

Common cold or flu presenting with fever w/slight or no chills, headache, desire for fluids, cough, sore throat. Acute respitory infections, acute fever, tonsillitis, canker sores.

ViewYi Zi Wan (Decoction B)

Hemorrhoids and/or constipation from an accumulation of damp-heat and toxins in the lower jiao - possibly bleeding hemorrhoids, pain, rectal prolapse, anal itching. With the right underlying factors…

ViewYu Quan Wan (Jade Spring Pills)

Xiao Ke (wasting and thirsting syndrome), qi and yin deficiencies of the kidney and spleen most commonly seen in the advanced forms of diabetes type II - excessive thirst, excessive urination, strong…

As noted above, gan cao is within the herbs that tonify qi functional group. All the herbs in this category are listed below.

(truncated intro "... herbs in this category are generally sweet and rich. they are most often combined with herbs that move and regulate the qi. )".

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