Licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, is native to South-eastern Europe and Central Asia. It has been consumed for its medicinal properties since ancient times by the Greeks and Romans.
Glycyrrhiza comes from Greek ‘glucus’ sweet, and ‘rhiza’ root. Glabra means “devoid of hair”.
Description and flowering period
This is an herbaceous perennial reaching 1 to 1.5 meter in height. The plant spreads through its rhizomes (underground spreading stems packed with nutrients). The leaves are pinnate (composed of numerous leaflets arranged in successive pairs along the leaf’s axis) and are about 10cm long. Clusters of small purple flowers appear in the spring. The fruit is a flattened pod (legume) reaching 2 or 3 cm long and containing several seeds.
It grows in any soil type, even in saline environments, in full sun. It is hardy to -15°C.
Its rhizomes are used under the name “liquorice roots” to produce an aromatic substance.
- Food & drink: Liquorice sticks can be chewed (as a tobacco substitute), or sliced and infused in hot beverages. The extract is used to make syrups and cordials or powders and pastes for sweet making such as liquorice rolls or liquorice all-sorts. It is also a key ingredient in the southern French liqueur Pastis.
- Medicinal: It is used in Chinese folk medicine to stimulate brain activity, to reduce cholesterol, treat digestive system inflammations and relieve cough. Due to its high glycyrrhizin content, it can in induce excessive arterial hypertension and, in high doses, become toxic. It is therefore recommended that no more than 150mg of glycyrrhizin be ingested per day, especially if taking certain medications as the substance can increase their potency.
Liquorice has been consumed by humans since ancient Greek and Roman times. In the old days, a drink made with liquorice and roasted couch grass roots was given to hospital patients to help their recovery. The species can become rather invasive under favourable conditions.
Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN