Family: Fabaceae (Leguminosae), Glycycrhiza glabra L.
Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984.
Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature
on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate
Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.
Licorice, Glycycrhiza glabra L., has long been prized for
the roots and rhizomes (collectively called roots), which are
used for flavoring and medicinal purposes. Native to the Mediterranean
region and to central through southwest Asia, the plant is produced
principally in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Turkey,
and Syria (11.7-74). Reaching a height of 1 to 1.5 meters, the
perennial plant has dark green leaflets, yellow, blue, or violet
flowers, and sweet-flavored rhizomes.
The reported life zone of licorice is 6 to 25 degrees centigrade
with an annual precipitation of 0.3 to 1.1 meters and a soil pH
of 5.5 to 8.2 (4.1-31). The plant prefers deep sandy oil
located in warm regions that have long photoperiods.
Although the plant can be grown from seed, commercial plantings
are usually propagated from vegetative cuttings of rhizomes, suckers,
or crowns (14.1-29). Marketable-size rhizomes develop
in three to five years. Harvesting takes place in the autumn,
after the foliage has dried. Commercial licorice is available
in many forms, including sticks, peeled or unpeeled, solid extract,
and block juice.
Licorice contains glycycrhizin, saponin, asparagine, sugars, resin,
bitter principles, a volatile oil, and other compounds (6.1-29,
11.1-136, 14.1-35). Commercial glycyrrhizin is the ammoniated
form of glycyrrhzic acid, which tends to intensify other flavors,
such as chocolate and maple (11.1-74) .
Glycyrrhizin, the main constituent of licorice, is more than fifty
times sweeter than cane sugar (11.1-74). The powdered licorice
root is employed as a natural sweetner in alcoholic and nonalcoholic
beverages, confections, and pharmaceuticals. Licorice is often
mixed with anise oil, which has a licorice-like scent, for
use as candy or in flavoring of other candies, pastries or baked
goods. Licorice extract has been used as a foaming agent in fire
As a medicinal plant, licorice has been considered a demulcent,
diuretic, emollient, expectorant, laxative, pectoral, and stomachic.
Folk remedies call for licorice to be used against asthma, bronchitis,
coughs, fevers ulcers, and cancers (11.1-97, 14.1-17).
Licorice is known to have mineralocorticoid, spasmolytic, and
estrogenic properties (7.8-10). The bark of licorice plants
contains a hemolytically active saponin. Glycycrhetinic acid,
a constituent of glycycrhizin, is used in the commercial preparation
of carbenoxolone, employed as an anti-inflammatory agent
against gastric ulcers and in the treatment of Addison's disease
(11.1-74). Excessive licorice is known to promote cardiovascular
toxicity, hypertension, and edema (11.1-136). Metabolic effects
may occur in individuals consuming only modest amounts (7.8-20).
The licorice of commerce is derived from several varieties of
Glycyrrhiza glabra L., including var. typica (Spanish),
var. glandulifera (Russian), and beta-ulolacea (Persian).
Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch., Chinese licorice,
has long been used in treatment of ulcers and Addison's disease
(11.1-97). Wild licorice refers to Aralia nudicaulis
L. of the Araliaceae family.
Licorice is generally recognized as safe for human consumption
as a natural flavoring and plant extract (21 CFR sections 182.10,
[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in
full in the original reference].
Last modified 6-Dec-1997