For those of you who think that unions have no value, this may be the exception to the rule:

Just to be clear, the licorice company whose union workers are on strike is not likely the sole party responsible for the two-decade old rise in Viagra sales. However, were it not for Bakers’ Union Local 125 going out on strike against the American Licorice Co., on Monday, some of us would continue on eating those skinny swirly sticks of goodness in pure licorice bliss–completely unaware that there is a litany of licorice lessons to be learned out there.

For example, licorice, as it turns out, has been used for centuries for  medicinal purposes:

Licorice is used for various digestive system complaints including stomach ulcers, heartburn, colic, and ongoing inflammation of the lining of the stomach (chronic gastritis).

Some people use licorice for sore throat, bronchitis, cough, and infections caused by bacteria or viruses.

Licorice is also used for osteoarthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), liver disorders, malaria, tuberculosis, food poisoning, and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

However, studies are also now suggesting that there may be some not-so-sweet side effects from the tasty treat.

According to a 2009 study by the University of Helsinki and the University of Edinburgh [in PDF], published in the American Journal of Epidemology, children of mothers who consumed large amounts of licorice during their pregnancies did not perform as well as other children in cognitive tests.

They were also more likely to have poor attention spans and show disruptive behavior such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

It is thought that a component in licorice called glycyrrhizin may impair the placenta, allowing stress hormones to cross from the mother to the baby.

High levels of such hormones, known as glucocorticoids, are thought to affect fetal brain development and have been linked to behavioral disorders in children.

There are distinctions between licorices, according to Lance Armstrong’s site

Black licorice sold as candy may not contain the ingredients considered responsible for most of the herb’s effects, both good and bad. Black licorice candy often contains anise, which has a similar flavor to licorice but no active ingredients. Red licorice does not contain any real licorice. Black licorice can also be made with deglycyrrhizinated extract, also called DGL, which does not have the same effects as glycyrrhizin. To know if your black licorice contains the “real thing,” read the label carefully.

However, when it comes to the real deal (licorice that contains glycyrrhizin), the side effects are rather alarming:

Licorice taken in large amounts can have serious side effects. The glycyrrhizin in black licorice can cause fluid retention, leg swelling, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, fatigue, lethargy, headaches, muscle weakness and an increased risk of heart attack. Glycyrrhizin can also cause the kidneys to release excess amounts of potassium, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns, which leads to abnormal heart rhythms. Potential hormonal effects from black licorice include impotence in men, menstrual abnormalities in women and decreased sex drive in both sexes. [Emphasis added.]

As noted above, there are different types of licorice sold with different ingredients, so read the label.

In the meantime, what brought this licorice lecture to the fore was a strike at the American Licorice Company.

Workers at American Licorice Co. went on strike early Monday as a result of a labor dispute over health care, pensions and wages, union members said.

The company’s 178 employees, who work in three shifts, voted to strike two weeks ago and began picketing at midnight.

“I think we deserve an honest contract, that’s why we’re out here,” said Rene Castillo, vice president of Baker’s Union Local 125. “We’re here for as long as it takes.”

This may be one of those times when a long strike may not necessarily be a bad thing.


“I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as ABC, hold up truth to your eyes.” Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776

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