Liquorice is a hardy perennial with stoloniferous roots, downy
stems and pinnate leaves and can grow up to a height of 2 meters.
The roots are straight pieces of wrinkled, fibrous wood, which are
long and cylindrical (round) and grow horizontally underground.
Licorice roots are brown on the outside and yellow on the inside.
In late summer it bears pale blue to violet pea-like flowers in
loose spikes followed by oblong pods, containing 2-4 kidney-shaped
seeds. The flowers are hermaphrodite (having both male and female
organs) and are pollinated by insects.
Liquorice can grow in any well drained soil but prefers deep
fertile, moist-retentive soil for good root production. It will
tolerate alkaline conditions as well as a maritime climate and can
grow in full sun or light shade.
Liquorice has a deep taproot as well as horizontal rhizomes that
will produce suckers from the second year – except when planted in
clay soil. In order to produce good quality roots, the flowers must
be pinched out.
Liquorice is a slow grower that do not produce much growth during
the first two years – or after it had been transplanted. It has a
symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria that form nodules
on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is
utilized by the Liquorice itself as well as other plants growing
Liquorice is a member of the pea family and it is native to some
parts of Europe (like Spain, Italy, Russia) and Asia (India, Iran &
Liquorice is cultivated for its edible root which is widely used in
medicine and as a flavoring, hence the name Glycyrrhiza that
translates as sweet root in Greek.
Harvest and parts used:
The bruised root has a characteristic sweet pungent smell and is
harvested in autumn, 3-4 years after planting - and is dried for
Licorice root is well known for its fragrance and flavor. The flavor
that we associate as licorice in licorice candy is actually anise.
Licorice candy is primarily flavored with anise oil and then
sweetened with licorice root (The root contains glycyrrhizin, a
substance that is 50 times sweeter than sucrose). The powdered root
is used as a sweetener in soft drinks and some herbal teas. A tea
made from the roots is also consumed as a thirst quencher while the
leaves are used as a tea substitute in Mongolia.
Licorice supplements are made from the roots and underground stems
and used in medicines to disguise unpleasant flavors. Licorice
is a demulcent (soothing to irritated membranes), expectorant
(loosening and helping to expel congestion in the upper respiratory
tract), stimulates mucous secretions of the trachea, is
anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-allergic, alterative,
diuretic and laxative.
Licorice can be used to treat bronchial complaints such as catarrh,
bronchitis, colds, flu, coughs and reduces irritation of the throat.
It relieves stress and is a potent healing agent for tuberculosis.
Licorice helps to reduce fever and is used in the treatment of
chronic inflammations such as arthritis, mouth ulcers, rheumatic
diseases, chronic skin conditions and auto-immune diseases. Licorice
can be used to treat ileitis, leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel
syndrome and Crohn's disease (it is anti-spasmodic in the bowels).
It can also be used for auto-immune conditions including lupus,
scleroderma and rheumatoid arthritis. The dried root can be chewed
and is excellent for teething children – it is also a good tooth
Licorice should be used in moderation and should not be taken by
pregnant women or people with high blood pressure, kidney disease or
those taking digoxin-based medication. Excessive consumption of
licorice or licorice candy can be toxic to the liver and
cardiovascular system and may produce hypertension and water
retention. People should not consume more than 100mg of glycyrrhizic
acid a day. Most cases of hypertension from licorice are
caused by eating too much licorice candy.
Liquorice adds a mellow, sweet woody flavor and enhances
the taste of tobacco. Extracts from the root are used as a
foaming agent in beers and fire extinguishers. A fibre obtained from
the roots is used for insulation, wallboard and boxboard.