Licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch.) possesses significant anti-cancer activities, but the active ingredients and underlying mechanisms have not been revealed. By screening the cytotoxic activities of 122 licorice compounds against SW480 human colorectal adenocarcinoma cells, we found that licoricidin (LCD) inhibited SW480 cell viability with an IC50 value of 7.2 μM. Further studies indicated that LCD significantly induced G1/S cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in SW480 cells, accompanied by inhibition of cyclins/CDK1 expression and activation of caspase-dependent pro-apoptotic signaling. Meanwhile, LCD promoted autophagy in SW480 cells, and activated AMPK signaling and inhibited Akt/mTOR pathway. Overexpression of a dominant-negative AMPKα2 abolished LCD-induced inhibition of Akt/mTOR, autophagic and pro-apoptotic signaling pathways, and significantly reversed loss of cell viability, suggesting activation of AMPK is essential for the anti-cancer activity of LCD. In vivo anti-tumor experiments indicated that LCD (20 mg/kg, i.p.) significantly inhibited the growth of SW480 xenografts in nude mice with an inhibitory rate of 43.5%. In addition, we obtained the glycosylated product LCDG by microbial transformation, and found that glycosylation slightly enhanced the in vivo anti-cancer activities of LCD. This study indicates that LCD could inhibit SW480 cells by inducing cycle arrest, apoptosis and autophagy, and is a potential chemopreventive or chemotherapeutic agent against colorectal cancer.