Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice Root)
Part Used : Root.
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.
This perennial plant grows 90 to 180cm (36 to 72in) tall, it an extensive branching root system. The roots are straight pieces of wrinkled, fibrous wood, which are long and cylindrical and grow horizontally underground. Licorice roots are brown on the outside and yellow on the inside.
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.
Plants are slow to settle in and do not produce much growth in their first two years after being moved. The young growth is susceptible to damage by slugs and so the plant will require some protection for its first few years.
Each root if unrestricted can reach a depth of 90 to 120cm (3 to 4 ft) and can extend to 10m (25 ft). For good root development and harvest prevent plant from flowering.
One acre of land can produce 4 to 5 tons every 3 to 4 years.
Divide the plant in spring or autumn. Each division must have at least one growth bud. Autumn divisions can either be replanted immediately or stored in clamps until the spring and then be planted out. Pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in a cold frame until they are established before planting them out in the spring or summer.
Dig up the plant in early autumn, cut part of the roots off and replant the plant, it will continue to grow. Cut the root into 20cm (8in) pieces and dry for later use.
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.
Glycyrrhiza glabra, commonly known as Liquorice grows wild around the Mediterranean and Asia. It is cultivated in countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy.
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.
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.
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 Roman writers, Celsus and Scribonius Largus, mention Liquorice as Radix dulcis. Pliny who describes it as a native of Cilicia, and Pontus makes no allusion to its growing in Italy.
Liquorice Extract was known in the times of Dioscorides and appears to have been in common use in Germany during the Middle Ages. In 1264, Liquorice (apparently the extract, not the root) is charged in the Wardrobe Accounts of Henry IV. Saladinus, who wrote about the middle of the fifteenth century, names it among the wares kept by the Italian apothecaries and it is enumerated in a list of drugs of the City of Frankfurt, written about the year 1450.
John Parkinson grew Liquorice in his Holborn garden and John Josselyn gives the recipe for a beer which he used to brew for the Indians when they had bad colds. It was strongly flavoured with elecampane, liquorice, aniseed, sassafras and fennel.
Liquorice is official in all pharmacopoeias, which differ as to the variety or varieties recognized, as to the botanical name employed and as to the drug being peeled or unpeeled, dried Liquorice root being supplied in commerce either with or without the thin brown coat. In the latter state it is known as peeled or decorticated. The British Pharmacopoeia requires that it be peeled, but others require that it be unpeeled.
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.
Liquorice grows best on sandy soil near streams, usually not being found in the wild condition more than 50 yards from water.
It will not flourish on clay and prefers the rich, fine soil of bottom lands in river valleys, where there is an abundance of moisture during the growing period, but where the ground bakes hard during the hot, late summer months, when the dry heat is very favourable for the formation of the sweet constituents.
The plant succeeds most in a warm climate; not only can it not endure severe freezing, but cool weather interferes with the formation of its useful juice and renders it woody. It has been found that a climate particularly favourable to the production of the orange is favourable to that of Liquorice.
Owing to the depth to which the root penetrates and its ready propagation from detached pieces, the plant is a most persistent weed in cultivated grounds where it is indigenous and exceedingly difficult of extirpation. It is very healthy and robust and very little subject to disease, at the same time successfully occupying the ground to the exclusion of other plants. For this reason, the continuation of the natural supply may be considered as assured, though it is liable to suffer severe reduction from over-collection.
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.
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.
The chief constituent of Liquorice root, to which its sweet taste is due, is Glycyrrhizin (6 to 8 per cent), obtainable in the form of a sweet, white crystalline powder, consisting of the calcium and potassium salts of glycyrrhizic acid. The drug also contains sugar, starch (29 per cent), gum, protein, fat (0.8 per cent), resin, asparagin (2 to 4 per cent), a trace of tannin in the outer bark of the root, yellow colouring matter, and 0.03 of volatile oil.
The amount of Glycyrrhizin present in Extract of Liquorice varies from 5 to 24 per cent, and the amount of moisture from 8 to 17 per cent. Upon ignition, the extract yields from 5 to 9 per cent of ash.
The roots of G. glandulifera and echinata also contain in addition, Glycyrmarin, a bitter principle occurring mostly in the bark.
Glycyrrhizin, or a similar substance, has been obtained from other plants, viz. from the rhizome of Polypodium vulgare, the leaves of Myrrhis odorata, and the bark of Lucuma glycyphloea.
The powdered root is useful in pill-making on account of its absorbent qualities, being used to impart stiffness to pill masses and to prevent the adhesion of pills.
As a remedial agent, powdered Liquorice root has been almost entirely replaced by the extract, though it is used in the well-known Compound Liquorice Powder, the mild laxative in which Senna and Fennel are the other ingredients. It is added mainly on account of its sweetness and emollient qualities, the action of the powder being mainly due to the Senna contained.
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.
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