Liquorice (or licorice in the USA or glycyrrhiza glabra as the botanical name in the ingredients list of beauty products) is a legume. Yes that's right - a cousin of the bean. Another interesting fact: it is not related to anise or fennel despite the similar flavours. Quite the sweet plant, liquorice contains an anti-viral compound called glycyrrhizic acid which makes it quite a lot sweeter than sugar.

Medical benefits of this sweet plant are many. For a start it is an excellent expectorant (an agent that dissolves thick mucus), which is why it can be used to relieve respiration difficulties and remove muscus from the lungs, bronchi and trachea.

Liquorice contains 10 antioxidants, 25 fungicidal and other beneficial components such as phytochemicals, magnesium, and sodium. It has an antispasmodic effect in the bowels so can help with leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease. It's also a mild laxative.

When it comes to skin related illnesses liquorice can be applied topically to cold sores, shingles, ophthalmic, oral or genital herpes as it is a strong anti-viral. This plant also has a similar effect to hydrocortisone so is a good natural alternative to fight dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis. The natural compound glycyrrhizins (that sweetener mentioned above) helps to reduce inflammation of the skin.

Now if you think you can get your dose of liquorice from Liquorice Allsorts you'll be disappointed to hear that most brands use aniseed oil to flavour. Many natural skin care products designed to combat dry skin conditions contain liquorice. For example the Intensive Care Dry Scalp Shampoo S.O.S by Barefoot Botanicals.

Be warned though if you intend to take liquorice internally. It is not recommended to be taken long term as it can raise blood pressure, cause sodium and water retention, and loss of potassium.