"Natural Healing with Herbs for a Healthier You"
THE BENEFITS OF THE USE OF LICORICE
IN HERBAL PREPARATIONS
LOCATION OF LICORICE
Licorice is a fairly hardy perennial native primarily to the Mediterranean. It has been cultivated in Belgium, England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and in recent years, has been commercially grown in northern India. It has been grown with some commercial success in the United States. In Western Europe, the commercial plant is cultivated, but the Russian and Persian plants have been obtained from wild growth, which might indicate a more valuable medicine.
The genus Glycyrrhiza (glis-sir-ize’-a) includes twenty species native to Eurasia, North America and South America, as well as Australia. The species that is listed on the 100-herb list for the School of Natural Healing is Glycyrrhiza glabra which 50 years ago was mainly imported from Turkey, now France is the largest exporter in Europe. Glycyrrhiza echinata is the official German species and is native to Hungary, south Russia and Asia Minor. The American species is Glycyrrhiza lepidota it is somewhat a smaller plant than Glycyrrhiza glabra, but has similar medicinal properties. Glycyrrhiza uralensis is the Chinese species, which mainly comes from northwest China.
Whatever the species, the genus Glycyrrihiza comes from the Leguminosea or Pea Subfamily. It is an herbaceous perennial plant that grows three to seven feet in height. Its appearance is light and feathery with pinnate leaves and oval leaflets that hang down during the night on each side of the midrib. Rising from the leaves’ axils is a four to six inch spike of small light yellow, bluish or purple flowers followed by small pods. These pods are smooth in the glabra species but hairy or spiny in the other species. The pods contain two to four kidney shaped seeds that look like immature pea pods.
The underground system is a main deep, penetrating taproot with creeping horizontal stolons (rhizomes) that branch from the main root. These runners travel many feet under the ground. In the second year, shoots emerge from the stolon buds. During the first two years the growth is slight. The roots are not ready for harvesting until the end of the third year although harvesting generally occurs in the fall of the fourth year (once the leaves have died back). Any sooner and the root is deficient in the sweet substance, but after the fourth year the roots take on a tough, coarse and woody texture. Licorice is usually propagated by dividing the root crown or by stolon cuttings; seedlings are too slow to develop. Propagation is best done in the spring.
Licorice grows best in deep, rich sandy soil near a stream in full sun. It will not flourish on clay; it needs the rich, fine soil where there is an abundance of moisture during the growing period. This helps the formation of the sweet constituents in the root. Licorice needs a warm climate because it cannot endure severe freezing and the cold weather also interferes with the formation of the sweet juices in the root. Climate that is favorable to growing oranges would also be favorable to growing Licorice. This plant, as others in its family, has the ability to fix nitrogen in the soil therefore propagation of the plant will not deplete the ground but works towards the betterment of the soil.
Licorice is very hard to harvest and requires manual labor. When uprooting Licorice 2 or 3 feet of surrounding earth must be removed because the roots have runners that can be as long as 6 feet. The rootstock and runners are all harvested. As of the printing of Dr Christopher’s newsletter in 1982, there had been no satisfactory mechanical method developed for harvesting the root. This is one reason that Licorice is imported from other countries, the people there are accustomed to difficult manual labor. We are a more machine-oriented culture.
by Mishelle Knuteson