Growing Licorice in Your Herb Garden

MOTHER's Herb Garden provides a history and gardening guide for growing licorice in your herb garden.

| July/August 1982

Learn about growing licorice in your herb garden, including licorice history and a gardening guide. 

Growing Licorice in Your Herb Garden

Lately, more and more people have begun to understand just how limited — in both variety and nutritional value our "modern" diets have become. This realization has sparked a new and wide spread interest in the culinary and therapeutic uses of herbs . . . those plants which — although not well-known today — were, just one short generation ago, honored "guests" on the dinner tables and in the medicine chests of our grandparents' homes. In this regular feature, MOTHER EARTH NEWS will examine the availability, cultivation, and benefits of our "forgotten" vegetable foods and remedies . . . and — we hope — help prevent the loss of still another bit of ancestral lore. 

You might be surprised to learn that good old-fashioned licorice has an impressive — and in some cases royal — family history. Great stores of the flavorful root were found, alongside priceless art treasures and jewels, in the 3,000-year-old tomb of King Tut. In fact, licorice was considered to be such a valuable herb that no Egyptian king would be without it on his journey into eternity. And even today, a beverage called mai sus, brewed from the sweet yellow root of the licorice shrub, is popular in the Middle East.

The Royal History of Medicinal Licorice Root

The botanical name for licorice, Glycyrrhiza glabra, incorporates the Greek glykys (sweet) and rhiza (root). If you pronounce the tongue-twisting "glycyrrhiza" quickly and casually, you'll know how it came to be "licorice" in English.

This perennial shrub (it's also known as sweetwood or sweet root) grows wild in Asia Minor, Greece, Spain, southern Italy, Iraq, Syria, Russia, and northern China. Large quantities are now shipped into northern Europe for various commercial purposes, but sweet root may have been taken there first by the Romans who ate it because they believed it increased personal stamina.

Different uses of this medicinal herb have developed over a number of centuries. An old Arabian remedy for skin lesions and blisters, for instance, involved dusting powdered licorice onto the affected skin. The ancient Hindus made a tonic of milk, sugar, and licorice to increase virility, the Chinese have long consumed great quantities of this wonder herb to ward off old age and medieval Europeans believed the root to be so nutritional and thirst-quenching that a small piece held under the tongue could keep a person alive for 11 or 12 days!

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