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Licorice root comes from a perennial plant that can grow from three to seven feet tall with pinnate or fern-like leaves and tall, spiky, purplish-blue flowers. The roots are harvested from plants that are at least 3 to 4 years of age. The roots grow horizontally and can be extensively branched, sometimes growing up to four feet beneath the ground. The long, cylindrical roots are woody and brown with a wrinkled appearance. Removing the outer bark exposes the yellow fibrous insides which is the source of the sweet compound glycyrrhizin, which gives Licorice root its famous flavor. Though anise, fennel and tarragon have a similar flavor profile, Licorice root is quite distinct.
Licorice root is available year-round, with a peak season in the fall.
Licorice root is botanically known as Glycyrrhiza glabra and is a legume, related to peas and beans. Licorice root is known by several common names including Sweet Root, Gan Zoa (Chinese) and Sweetwort. The name comes from the French word ‘licoresse’, and the Ancient Greek word ‘glukurrhiza’ both meaning “sweet root.”
Licorice root has a variety of nutritional and medicinal properties. The root has been found to have hundreds of potentially healing compounds such as flavonoids, and phytoestrogens. Licorice root in particular is high in a compound called glycyrrhizin, which is 50 times sweeter than sugar and has pharmaceutical effects. Licorice root is used medicinally to treat stomach ailments, heartburn and coughs; it has the ability to prevent the breakdown of cortisol (the fight-or-flight hormone) making it more available to the body. Studies have shown that Licorice root is just as effective as St. John’s wort for treating depression. It is considered one of the more overlooked herbal remedies because of its wide array of uses.
Licorice root is most often used as a flavoring agent for a beverages, from root beer to dark stout beers, liquors, and teas. The sweet root is also used to flavor confections, however anise is often used in “Licorice” candies. The root is broken down into fibers so the oils can be extracted for use. Typically Licorice root is available in dried, liquid and sometimes powdered form. Pieces of the whole root can be chewed; during the 1930s and early 1940s in the United States pieces of Licorice root were sold at the 10 cent stores for children to chew on like gum. Store Licorice root in a cool, dry place.
In Asia and Europe, Licorice root was used for the treatment of psoriasis and other skin ailments. Licorice root is sometimes used in non-edible items, such as compost for growing mushrooms, shoe polish and soap, as well as fire extinguishing agents. Licorice root was brought to England by Dominican friars where they began growing it at Pontefract Abbey in Yorkshire. Though Licorice no longer grows at the Abbey, the town of Pontefract still celebrates with an annual Licorice Festival.
Licorice root is native to southern Europe, the Mediterranean and parts of Asia. Recorded use of Licorice dates back to writings on Assyrian tablets and Egyptian papyri, over 3000 years ago. A bundle of Licorice roots were found in the tomb of King Tut. The Greeks made the first recorded medical reference of the root, notably for its use as a treatment for stomach ulcers. There are roughly 20 different species of Glycyrrhiza, and all share the same sweet roots with varying shapes and sizes. Licorice root does grow wild in some areas of Asia and Europe. It is a popular home garden plant and grows best in moderate climates where freeze is minimal. Licorice root cultivated for commercial use is grown in Italy and Spain, but predominately in Syria and Southern Russia.
Recipes that include Licorice Roots. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Food 52||Licorice Root and Malt Beer Beef Stew|
|Live Strong||Licorice Root Tea|
|Good Food||Clear Black Chicken Soup with Ginseng and Licorice|