Licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, is a purple and white flowering perennial, native of the Mediterranean region and central and southwest Asia. It is cultivated widely for the sweet taproot that grows to a depth of four ft (1.2 m). Licorice is a hardy plant that thrives in full sun or partial shade and prefers rich, moist soil. It may grow to a height of 3-7 ft (1-2 m). The wrinkled, brown root has yellow interior flesh and is covered with a tangle of rootlets branching from the stolons. The aerial parts of the plant are erect and branching with round stems that become somewhat angular near the top. The leaves are alternate, odd, and pinnate, dividing into as many as eight pairs of oblong leaflets. Licorice blossoms in late summer. The sweet-pea like flowers grow in clusters forming in the angle where the stem joins the branch. The maroon colored seed pods are about 1-2 in (3-5 cm) long and contain one to six kidney-shaped seeds.
Licorice is a sweet and soothing herb that has been appreciated for its medicinal qualities for thousands of years. Hippocrates named the herb glukos riza, or sweet root. Several species of this member of the Leguminosae, or pea, family, are used medicinally. Glycyrrhiza glabra, also known as sweet wood or sweet licorice, is cited first in most herbals. Chinese licorice, G. uralenis or G. viscida, known as the peacemaker, was included in the Chinese classic herbal Pen Tsao Ching over 2,000 years ago, and is believed to promote longevity. An American variety, G. lepidota or wild licorice, was a common Native American remedy and was also used by early settlers. Dominican friars brought the herb to England in the sixteenth century. The abbess Hildegard of Bingen added licorice to her materia medica, and this well-loved herb was a favorite of German and English herbalists.
Clare Hanrahan, Rebecca J. Frey PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,