Licorice Glycyrrhiza glabra
A perennial herb with a woody, creeping rhizome, an erect, branched stem and alternate, odd-pinnate leaves with 9-17 elliptic to oblong leaflets. The blue-violet flowers are arranged in long-stalked axially spikes. The fruit is a smooth reddish-brown pod.
Native to southern Europe and western and central Asia, Liquorice is now widely cultivated commercially for the pharmaceutical, tobacco and food industries. The growing of Liquorice in England began in the 16th century in the Pontefract district of Yorkshire. It was once an important crop there but cultivation has progressively declined and none remains. All supplies of Liquorice now have to be imported into Britain. The plant may still grow in some gardens. It was in Pontefract that the confectionery Pontefract or Pomfret cakes were originally made. The medicinal properties of the plant were known to the ancient Assyrians and Egyptians. The herb remains a popular remedy.
The roots and underground stolons of three-year old plants are used medicinally. The constituents include a sweet substance, glycorrhizin (7 per cent), potassium and calcium salts of glycyrrhizinic acid, a triterpenoid saponin-flavonoid glycosides, traces of essential oil, starch, sugars, a phytosterol (sitosterol), tannins and enzymes. These substances give Liquorice expectorant, laxative and antispasmodic actions. It is used either cut into pieces (in tea mixtures) or ground into a powder (in medicines). The extract is made into sticks that have a pleasant spicy flavour. Liquorice is of value for coughs and bronchitis, peptic and duodenal ulcers, and rheumatoid arthritis. It is also used to sweeten and flavour pharmaceutical preparations and, now rarely, as a binding agent in pills. A mixture of powdered Liquorice, Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) (P1. 97) and Senna (Carsia angustifolia) leaves is a popular natural laxative. In large doses Liquorice causes side effects, notably headache, high blood pressure and water retention.
Flowering time: summer, autumn