Licorice – characteristics, cultivation and use

licorice plant
licorice plant - © Pharaoh han

Licorice is an important crop for the food industry. The juice contained in the roots is the basis for the production of liquorice. But also as a medicinal plant licorice has a great importance. Namely, the dried roots can help with stomach ulcers, gastritis and bronchitis. Due to its sweet and tasty flavor, it is a popular medicinal plant, which should not be consumed in the long term and in high quantities.

Profile of licorice:

Scientific name: Glycyrrhiza glabra

Plant family: bean family (Fabaceae), legume family, pea family

Other names: liquorice (br.)

Sowing time / Planting time: February – March

Flowering period: August – October

Harvest time: from the fourth year

Useful plant parts: roots

Location: sunny to full sun

Soil quality: deep and loose soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: gastritis, gastric ulcers, bronchitis, diarrhea, herpes, hepatitis

Use as aromatic herb: licorice, meat, as a sweetener

Plant characteristics and classification of licorice

Origin and occurrence of licorice

Licorice is almost certainly from Southwest Asia. Some other species, on the other hand, come from Central Asia. Since the plant is not particularly demanding in terms of climate, you will find it therefore wild in the Mediterranean region. Since licorice are of economic importance, the plant is grown in many countries, such as Russia, Iran, Bulgaria, Spain or Turkey.

Wild licorice can be found especially on sunny locations with nutrient-rich and loose soils.

Plant order of licorice

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) belongs to the large family of legumes (Fabaceae). A kinship exists thus to important economic plants such as pea and bean as well as to other medicinal herbs like restharrow or red clover. About 20 species are currently known for the genus of Glycyrrhiza.

Look and characteristics of licorice


Licorice is a typical perennial herbaceous plant, which growth between 60 and 180 cm (24 in and 6 ft). The name comes from the sweet-tasting roots and runners (rhizomes) of the plant. The root itself has a light brown color and are strong or heavily lignified.


Licorice has paired feathery, alternate leaves with 10 to 17 pinnate leaves that are elliptical in shape and about 2 to 5 cm (0.8 to 2 in) long. On its underside sit resinous-sticky glands.


As a representative of the legume family, licorice has the typical butterfly flowers. Flowering is expected between early August and mid-October, when the plant develops purple to creme-white flowers. Several flowers sit in an ear. Each single flower can grow up to one cm (0.4 in) long. Striking is the bell-shaped calyx with several pointed calyx teeth.


From the flowers develop about 3 cm (1.2 in) long legumes, each with two to three brown seed capsules.

Licorice – cultivation and care

Although licorice is not native to moderate climate, the plant can still be grown there. However, if you want to harvest the sweet-tasting roots, then a little patience is necessary, because it can take up to three to four years before you can use the roots. But even without the intention of harvesting licorice is a pretty to look at plant.


Licorice needs a sunny to full sun spot in the garden.


The soil should be rich in nutrients, slightly permeable and above all deep. Since it develop quite deep taproots, flat and heavy soils are not recommended. Loamy soils that are still easy to work with are optimal. Sandy soils should be mixed with clay flour before cultivation


The seeds can be sown directly in the field in late spring from May. However, a preculture between the end of February and March in a nutrient-poor seed soil is recommended. If the licorice plants are to grow outdoors, then a planting distance of at least 50 x 50 cm (20 x 20 in) should be kept, as the roots develop quite broad shoots. A cultivation on the balcony or terrace is possible, but due to the taproots and the height of growth, deep pots should be chosen. As a soil, a good herbal soil, but also a normal potting soil used.


If the licorice grows in a nutrient-rich soil, in most cases no additional fertilizer inputs are required. In the following year, however, some compost or an organic fertilizer should be incorporated near the surface of the soil. Pot cultures should be added a good universal fertilizer about every five to six weeks A typical herbal fertilizer should be avoided because many products contain insufficient amounts of phosphorus.


The water requirement of the plant is quite low. Licorice tolerates dry cycles in most cases very well. On very hot days with only a few rainfalls should be poured at least every other day.


There are hardly any diseases. However, the roots are popular with voles, who then like to nibble on them. In addition to the usual expelling agents, it can be helpful to grow clover between the licorice. Rare, but possible, is also an infestation of borers (bug) species called lesser grain borer (Rhizopertha dominica). The beetle larva grow especially at temperatures around 25 ° C / 77 ° F and high humidity.


Basically, the plants can be kept outdoors in winter. Licorice is considered frost tolerant. However, some brushwood or vermiculite should be placed or sprinkled on the soil surface around young plants (up to one year).


To harvest licorice, you must be patient: Only from the fourth year of culture you can harvest the secondary roots in late autumn or early winter. The best harvest time is after the flowering season. The sugar content than is highest. After washing, you can dry the roots and then process further. You can use the roots both unpeeled and peeled.

Use of licorice

Licorice is used both in the kitchen and as a medicinal plant. However, the sweet-tasting roots should always be consumed in moderation.

Licorice in the kitchen

In the kitchen, licorice usually plays a role as a natural sweetener. The sweetening power is about 50 times higher than that of commercial granulated sugar. The roots contain both glucose and sucrose.

As an alternative to sugar, licorice can be used virtually anywhere a sweetish taste is desired. Mostly, however, other herbs such as stevia or the Aztec sweet herb are preferred. Occasionally cookies or donuts are flavored with licorice.

Rather unknown, but nevertheless interesting is the use of the whole root for the preparation of meat dishes. If a sweet taste is desired, whole licorice root can be seared or stuck in the meat.

Economically, licorice is particularly important for the production of liquorice. In addition, the roots are used industrially for the production of liqueurs and sweets.

Licorice as a medicinal herb

Both in the medicine of the Middle Ages as well as in today’s naturopathy licorice was and is an important medicinal herb. The beneficial effects of the herb have been known since antiquity, according to some ancient records by Roman physicians and Greek naturalists. At that time, one knew that the roots are able to suppress hunger and thirst. That may have been one of the reasons why it was part of the standard equipment of the Roman Legion.

From the herbal books of the late Middle Ages can be read that many of today’s known healing effects were already known at that time. In herbal books it is mentioned that the root juice gets the hot stomach and cleanses the chest and lungs. Licorice was given in the form of tea or medicinal wines, in which the root was boiled in the wine. Such medicinal wines were used at that time for urinary and renal discomfort, which from today’s medical point of view, however, is no longer responsible.

Externally, licorice was considered at that time as a remedy for ocular discharge and ulcers on the eyes. Powdered liquorice root was also used as a wound-healing agent as well as for ulcers on the mouth and mixed with wheat flour.

In today’s natural medicine, licorice is considered an important medicine. Only the lignified parts of the plant are used, which contain numerous medicinal ingredients.

Licorice can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • bronchitis
  • constipation
  • cravings
  • duodenal ulcer
  • gastritis
  • gout
  • low blood pressure
  • headache
  • heartburn
  • migraine
  • overweight
  • peptic ulcer
  • rheumatism
  • stomach cramps

Medicinal properties

  • laxative
  • anti-inflammatory effect
  • antibacterial
  • analgesic
  • blood pressure-increasing
  • blood purifier
  • diuretic
  • expectorant
  • fungicide

Licorice can be used either as a tea or as a tincture. The best known is, however, in the form of licorice. The most common way to directly apply its root is tea. Licorice is also used in tea blends, because it gives the mixture a certain sweetness and a pleasant aroma.

Preparation of licorice tea

Time needed: 15 minutes

This is how to prepare a licorice tea by yourself

  1. put one to two teaspoons of licorice root in a tea strainer a cup

  2. dash with boiling water

  3. leave to draw for 15 minutes

  4. drink the licorice tea in small sips

  5. from this tea you drink one to three cups daily

As with all powerful herbs, you should take a break after six weeks of continuous use and temporarily drink another tea with a similar effect. Then you can drink liquorice tea again for six weeks. The break prevents any unwanted long-term effects and the desired liquorice efficacy is maintained and does not diminish through habituation.

Licorice tea blend

For coughing, you can prepare the following tea mixture. It is also suitable for children, because it tastes slightly sweet.

40 gr / 1.4 oz of licorice roots

30 gr / 1 oz of fennel seeds

15 gr / 0.5 oz of anise seeds

15 gr / 0.5 oz ribwort-plantain leaves

If you want, you can add some honey to the finished tea, the tea becomes even sweeter and you can also enjoy the healing properties of the honey.

Licorice tincture

To make a tincture yourself, sprinkle the roots in a screw-top jar with double grain or spirit until all parts of the plant are covered, and allow the mixture to simmer for 2 to 6 weeks. Then strain and fill in a dark bottle.

This tincture is taken one to three times a day 10-50 drops.

If the tincture is too concentrated, you can dilute it with water.

Licorice honey

Licorice powder can be mixed with 2 parts of honey and spoon-fed.

Chew root pieces

The chewing of the root pieces is used against gastric complaints, food cravings and alcohol hangover. The chewing of licorice sticks is meant to arouse passionate feelings 😉

Licorice sweet

Most licorice preparations can be regarded as a sweet, because they contain, among other things, a lot of sugar and other sweets ingredients. However, classic bars from the pharmacy or the health food store have quite a healing effect that corresponds to that of a tea or tincture. You can eat traditional licorice if you have a cough or stomach problems.

Preparation of licorice sticks

If you want to make liquorice yourself, boil the roots, let the resulting juice thicken on low heat.

From the resulting syrup you can found liquorice sticks that need to dry until you have bars. Homemade liquorice sticks are of course not comparable to liquorice sweets from the supermarket.

Licorice in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) licorice root is an important medicinal plant. There, the liquorice plant is considered a sweet tonic, which is mainly used in complaints in the spleen, pancreas, stomach and lung area. In addition to bronchitis and stomach complaints, it also deals with diseases caused by viruses or fungal infections or autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

Side effects

Although the medicinal effectiveness of licorice is proven by many studies and the side effects are usually manageable. Nevertheless, people with existing heart or kidney problems should discuss the application with the attending physician. Especially those who take medication to increase urine output (diuretics), should refrain from prolonged intake.

Licorice in pregnancy

If possible, the intake of licorice products should be avoided in pregnancy. After evaluating a Finnish long-term state, the Federation of Gynecologists explains that the intake stimulates the activity of the adrenal cortex and produces more cortisol. The cortisol enters the bloodstream of the unborn baby and can later lead to developmental delays or even to a slight mental underdevelopment.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Licorice – What to pay attention to?

There are occasionally fresh plants to buy in specialized garden markets, plant centers or online. Care should be taken that the leaves have a rich green color. If possible, the soil should not be soaked, otherwise there is a certain risk of mold. The price ranges from 5 to 30 EUR/$.

Seeds are usually only available in garden markets or on the internet. The seeds should not be more than two years old. The price per pack is about 2.50 to 4 EUR/$.

Licorice roots have become increasingly popular in recent years and are sometimes even found in the food retail industry. However, you will definitely find what you are looking for in online marketplaces where you can buy both whole and cut roots. Incidentally, the intact roots can also be chewed, whereas the cut ones are directly suitable for tea preparations or for the production of licorice.

Ground liquorice roots are often sold as licorice powder and are used primarily as a spice for desserts and sauces. When buying, products should be preferred that are not sold in transparent bags. The powder should always be kept cool and dark.

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