Liquorice Root ( Licorice Root )

Licorice Root

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–Synonyms—Liquiritia officinalis. Lycorys (thirteenth century).
(Welsh) Lacris.
(French) Reglisse.
(German) Lacrisse.
(Italian) Regolizia.
Part Used : Root.
Habitat :The Liquorice plants are shrubs, natives of South-east Europe and South-west Asia, as far as Persia ( Iran ).

Glycyrrhiza Glabra

The liquorice plant is a legume and native is to the Mediterranean and cultivated in countries . It is one of the most commonly used herbs in Western herbal medicine. It has a very long history of use as both a medicine and as flavouring. Extracts of the root are used to flavour tobacco, beer, soft drinks and pharmaceutical products, often to disguise unpleasant flavours.
Fresh English liquorice is bright yellowish brown; the root being soft and pliable. The root is harvested in the autumn and is dried for later use. The aroma is strongly reminiscent of anise or fennel. The taste is dominantly sweet, warm and medical.
In our northerly climate the plant rarely flowers, this benefits it’s sweet flavour, as once the plant flowers the sweetness of the root is reduced. They are suitable plants to continue to be grown in large pots. This will control their root system and make it simple to access the roots to utilise if desired.

Glycyrrhiza Glabra

The root can be used raw or used as flavouring. The dried root is often used for chewing; it is excellent for teething children and also as a tooth cleaner. A tea made from the roots is an excellent thirst quencher. The powdered root is also used as a sweetener in other herb teas. Glycyrrhizin is said to be up to fifty times sweeter than sugar. In todays confectionery it is often mixed with sugar and treacle.

Medicinal Uses:
Liquorice supplements are made from the roots and underground stems of the plant. The health properties associated with Liquorice are well documented . It contains a natural expectorant so it can help soothe coughs and colds; it offers digestive relief by decreasing the amount of stomach acid and can help reduce stress and anxiety. Excessive consumption is known to be toxic to the liver, cause water retention and raised blood pressure.

Glycyrrhiza glabra, commonly known as Liquorice grows wild around the Mediterranean and Asia. It is cultivated in countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy.


Dioscorides gave the plant its botanical name Glycyrrhiza. It is taken from the Greek glukos meaning ‘sweet’ (from which we also get the word glucose) and riza meaning ‘root’. Its 13th century English name was Lycorys, a corruption of glycyrrhiza.
The species name glabra means ‘smooth’ or ‘hairless’
In many parts of the world including the U.S. the alternative spelling of Licorice is used.
The root of Glycyrrhiza glabra, the plant from the Mediterranean, including Spain, is sweet enough to be sucked in its raw state. In northern counties of England it is colloquially known as Spanish, supposedly because Spanish monks grew liquorice root at Rievaulx Abbey near Thirsk in Yorkshire.
The dried root of Liquorice were sold as sweets, and commonly called Spanish Wood Stick or Liquorice Wood. They were one of the few sweets sold during the WW2 and during rationing.

Glycyrrhiza Glabra History:

European liquorice is a plant with a rich historical tradition. The use of liquorice dates to ancient times; liquorice roots were found in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen (1358 BC). The ancient Romans and Greeks used liquorice for medicinal uses, such as in coughing syrups or against stomach ulcers. In 1305 Edward the First placed a tax on liquorice imports to finance the repair of the London Bridge.

Liquorice has been grown in England since the Dark Ages and records from the early 16th century show liquorice being grown in fields around Pontefract in Yorkshire. It was brought from the Mediterranean by Dominican monks who settled in the area around Pontefract Castle. The plants didn’t flower in the cold climate, but what really mattered were the roots. The Dominicans used the liquorice juice extracted from the roots of the plant primarily as a medicine, for easing coughs and stomach complaints.

The famous Pontefract cakes, also known as pomfrets, were born in 1614 when Sir George Saville first applied a stamp to the small, round liquorice cakes.
Initially, these cakes were consumed as a medicine, then, in 1760, an enterprising apothecary named George Dunhill hit upon the idea of adding sugar to the already famous Pontefract Cakes, turning a primarily medicinal product into an immensely popular sweet. Mr Dunhill then set up his famous firm, and in the following years it became one of the most renowned English manufacturers of liquorice.
Cultivation continued until well into the 19th century, when it finally petered out because of the competition from cheaper imported raw liquorice.

Glycyrrhiza Glabra

The Liquorice of medicine and commerce is derived from the sweet root of various species of Glycyrrhiza, a genus which contains about fourteen species, natives of warmer temperate countries in both the New and Old Worlds, ten of them having roots more or less sweet, but most of them not sufficiently so to be of use.

Hundreds of tons of Liquorice for commercial and medicinal purposes are imported annually from Spain, Russia, Germany, France and the East, most of our supply coming from Spain and Italy.

There are several well-marked species: G. glabra, glandulifera, echinata, etc. The chief source of the drug is G. glabra, which is cultivated in England, but is imported chiefly from Spain and Italy. There are several other varieties in commerce – Russian and Persian Liquorice – but these are not recognized by the British Pharmacopceia as suitable for medicinal purposes.

Glycyrrhiza Glabra

The plant is often found under the name Liquiritia officinalis. The Latin name Liquiritia, whence is derived the English name Liquorice (Lycorys in the thirteenth century), is a corruption of Glycyrrhiza, as shown in the transitional form Gliquiricia. The Italian Regolizia, the German Lacrisse or Lakriz, the Welsh Lacris and the French Reglisse have the same origin.


The plants are graceful, with light, spreading, pinnate foliage, presenting an almost feathery appearance from a distance. The leaflets (like those of the False Acacia) hang down during the night on each side of the midrib, though they do not meet beneath it. From the axils of the leaves spring racemes or spikes of papilionaceous small pale-blue, violet, yellowish-white or purplish flowers, followed by small pods somewhat resembling a partly-grown peapod in form. In the type species glabra, the pods are smooth, hence the specific name; in others they are hairy or spiny.

The underground system, as in so many Leguminosae, is double, the one part consisting of a vertical or tap root, often with several branches penetrating to a depth of 3 or 4 feet, the other of horizontal rhizomes, or stolons, thrown off from the root below the surface of the ground, which attain a length of many feet. These runners are furnished with leafbuds and throw up stems in their second year. The perennial downward-running roots as well as the long horizontal stolons are equally preserved for use.

Glycyrrhiza Glabra

Various indications point to the habit of this plant of fixing atmospheric nitrogen, as do many others of the family.

In the species glandulifera (W. and K.) the pods are covered with thick, glandular spines, and the whole plant is pubescent or roughly glandular. The underground portion is not so spreading and produces a carrot-shaped root larger than the Spanish root derived from G. glabra. This species is indigenous to South-east Europe, Syria and Western Asia, and is both wild and cultivated in Russia. Both the Russian and Persian Liquorice of commerce is derived from G. glandulifera, the Russian reaching this country is peeled or unpeeled: its taste although sweet, is accompanied by a more or less perceptible bitterness. It consists chiefly of roots, not runners.

Glycyrrhiza Glabra

Asiatic Liquorice is obtained from G. uralensis (Fisch.), found in Turkestan, Mongolia and Siberia, and little inferior to the best Russian Liquorice.

G. lepidota (Pursh), American Liquorice, is a species of the north-western United States. The rhizome is said to resemble that of Spanish Liquorice, but is smaller.

It is only grown now to a very limited extent in this country, being cultivated on a small scale near Pontefract in Yorkshire, though formerly it was extensively grown at Mitcham in Surrey, also at Godalming, and at Worksop (Notts).

Glycyrrhiza Glabra

The English Extract of Liquorice, made from the fresh home-grown root, sold in the lozenge form and known as Pontefract or Pomfrey cakes, is said to have a more delicate flavour than that imported, and it is considered that the cultivation of English Liquorice might well be extended, Essex and Surrey being suitable districts for its growth.

In southern Italy, large quantities of Liquorice root are grown, but it is chiefly converted into Extract, though some of the root is exported.

Spain and the south of France furnish quantities of carefully dried Liquorice root. Up to the year 1890, the cultivation of Spanish Liquorice was small or moderate in comparison with the wild collection. Owing, however, to the depletion of the natural supplies of root of good quality, this cultivation has grown rapidly in South and South-central Europe, where the climate is favourable.

Liquorice grows best on sandy soil near streams, usually not being found in the wild condition more than 50 yards from water.

Glycyrrhiza Glabra

The supply of natural root has suffered severe fluctuations owing to the exhaustion of supplies in the districts previously worked, alternating with over-production from newlyopened districts. This fact, coupled with the operations of speculators, has resulted in equally great fluctuations in quality, the new districts yielding full-grown root of good quality, the older ones that which has not been allowed to develop properly.

The cultivation of Liquorice is easy, sure and profitable and, if properly conducted, conducive to the betterment of the soil.

On account of the depth to which the root strikes when the plant has room to flourish, the soil should have a good staple of mould 2 or 3 feet in depth and be manured if necessary.

Glycyrrhiza Glabra

The planting season is either October, or February and March; the latter is preferred. The plants are procured from old plantations, being waste from the harvesting process, consisting of those side roots or runners which have eyes or buds, cut into sections about 6 inches long. They are dibbled in, in rows 3 or 4 feet apart, about 4 inches underneath the surface and about 18 inches apart in the rows. In the autumn, the ground is dressed with farmyard manure, about 40 tons to the acre.

During the first two years the growth is slight, the plants not rising above a foot the first season, and in Calabria the intervening space is generally utilized for the production of potatoes, cabbages and similar crops. The soil being heavily fertilized for the production of Liquorice, these crops are usually very luxuriant. After the second year, the growing Liquorice plants cover the entire soil to the exclusion of other growth.

Glycyrrhiza Glabra

Most of the dried Liquorice root imported into this country comes from Spain and Russia. Supplies of the official drug being drawn chiefly from Spain, the better quality of which comes from Tortosa and Alicante. Both Spanish and Russian Liquorice are usually exported in large bales or bundles, or rarely, in the case of the Spanish variety derived from Alicante, loose, or in bags.

Spanish Liquorice root is in long, straight, nearly cylindrical, unpeeled pieces, several feet in length, varying in thickness from 1/4 inch to about 1 inch, longitudinally wrinkled, externally greyish brown to dark brown, warty; internally tawny yellow; pliable, tough; texture coarsely fibrous; bark rather thick; wood porous, but dense, in narrow wedges; taste sweet, very slightly acrid.

Glycyrrhiza Glabra

The underground stem which is often present has a similar appearance, but contains a thin pith. That from Alicante is frequently untrimmed and dirty in appearance, but that from Tortosa is usually clean and bright looking. When peeled, the pieces of root (including runners) are shorter, a pale yellow, slightly fibrous externally, and exhibit no trace of the small dark buds seen on the unpeeled runners here and there. Otherwise it resembles the unpeeled.

Nearly all the Russian Liquorice reaching this country has been peeled. It attains a much larger size than the Spanish, and the taste, although sweet, is accompanied by a more or less perceptible but not strong bitterness or acridity. It consists chiefly of roots, not runners, in long often crooked pieces, about 2 inches in thickness, pale yellow externally and internally of a lighter yellow than the Spanish and softer. The size of all cells (when examined microscopically) is seen to be much larger than in the Spanish.


The manufacture of Liquorice Juice, or Extract, is conducted on a liberal scale in Spain, southern France, Sicily, Calabria, Austria, southern Russia, Greece and Asia Minor, but the Extract with which England is supplied is almost exclusively the produce of Calabria, Sicily and Spain; Calabrian Liquorice is generally preferred. By far the larger part of the Italian and Sicilian crop is now manufactured there and exported in the form of Extract.

Spain formerly yielded most of the supply, hence the Extract is still termed ‘Spanish Juice,’ but that of the first grade has long since depleted to the point of scarcity.

The roots and runners of both wild and cultivated plants are taken up in late autumn and stacked through the winter in the cellars and yards of the factories. When required, they are crushed under millstones to a pulp, then transferred to boilers and boiled in water over a naked fire, the decoctions are run off and then evaporated in copper vessels over direct heat, till a suitable consistency is obtained, being constantly stirred to prevent burning. While warm, the mass is taken out and rolled into sticks, stamped and stacked on boards to dry. Vacuum pans and steam power have in some factories replaced the more simple methods.

Glycyrrhiza Glabra

The sticks vary in size, but are commonly about 1 inch in diameter and 6 or 7 inches in length and when imported are usually wrapped in bay leaves. At one end they are stamped with the maker’s name or mark.

Stick Liquorice is very commonly impure, either from carelessness in its preparation, or from the fraudulent addition of other substances, such as starch, sand, carbonaceous matter, etc. Small particles of copper are also sometimes found in it.

Several varieties of Stick Liquorice are met with in English commerce, the most famous is the Solazzi Juice, manufactured at Corigliano, a small town of Calabria in the Gulf of Toranto.

The juice is also imported in a black form, having while warm and soft been allowed to run into the wooden cases of about 2 cwts. each, in which it is exported. This juice, known as Liquorice Paste, is largely imported from Spain and Asia Minor, but on account of a certain bitterness is unsuited for its use as a sweetmeat or in medicine, and is principally employed in the preparation of tobacco for chewing and smoking.


Extract of Liquorice in rolls has a black colour, is somewhat glossy and has a sharp and shining fracture. Some small cavities are found in the interior. The product of the different manufacturers of Stick Liquorice differ from one another not only in size, but often in the odour and taste; while some specimens are almost purely sweet, others are persistently acrid, rendering them unsuitable for medicinal purposes, for which they must be almost devoid of acridity.

Hard Extract of Liquorice, as described, is essentially different in composition and properties to the Extract of Liquorice of the British Pharmacopceia, which is entirely soluble in cold water, whereas the so-called Spanish Juice, when treated with cold water, leaves a large residue undissolved, retaining the shape of the stick.

Glycyrrhiza Glabra

The amount soluble in cold water varies considerably and reaches in the best brands about 70 or 75 per cent. The United States and nearly all other Pharmacopoeias recognize the commercial Extract of the root of G. glabra, but the British Pharmacopoeia does not, and gives a process for making an extract which somewhat resembles the purified Extract of Liquorice of the United States Pharmacopoeia.

For the Liquid Extract of Liquorice, the British Pharmacopceiadirects the exhaustion of the Liquorice root with two successive portions of cold water. Using each time 50 fluid ounces for 20 OZ. of the drug and allowing the mixture to macerate for 24 hours before expressing. The mixed infusions are heated to boiling point, strained through flannel and evaporated until the liquid has acquired, when cold, a specific gravity of 1.2, one-fourth of its volume of alcohol is added, and the mixture is set aside for 12 hours, after which it is filtered. It has a yellowish-brown colour and a pure sweet taste, free from all acridity.

Glycyrrhiza Glabra

It is a popular and well-known remedy for coughs, consumption and chest complaints generally, notably bronchitis, and is an ingredient in almost all popular cough medicines on account of its valuable soothing properties.

The Extract enters into the composition of cough lozenges and pastilles, with sedatives and expectorants. It is largely used in conjunction with infusion of linseed in the treatment of irritable cough, sore throat and laryngitis, and an infusion made by boiling 1 OZ. of the bruised root deprived of its bark, with 1 pint of water for a few minutes, may be employed in the treatment of sore throat and in catarrhal conditions of the urinary intestinal tracts.


Glycyrrhiza Glabra

The sugar of Liquorice may safely be taken by diabetic patients.

On the whole, Liquorice as a domestic medicine is far more largely used on the Continent than in Great Britain. It is much used in China and largely produced (both L. glabra and L. echinata) in some of the northern provinces, a variety of medicinal preparations being employed, not only as possessing tonic, alterative and expectorant properties, but also for the rejuvenating and highly nutritive qualities attributed to it.

It was recommended by Gervase Markham, a noted authority on husbandry and farriery in the early part of the seventeenth century, for the treatment of certain horses’ ailments.

Liquorice is also largely used by brewers, being added to porter and stout to give thickness and blackness.

Block Liquorice is employed in the manufacture of tobacco for smoking and chewing.