Licorice root, also known as glycyrriza, is one of the oldest and most commonly used herbs in ancient medicine; its uses predating both the Babylonian and Egyptian Empires. Large quantities of the licorice root were actually found in the Egyptian tomb of King Tut to aid his trip into the afterlife – ancient texts tell us it was his favourite way to flavour his drinks.
…so, what’s all the fuss about?
In traditional Chinese Medicine, licorice root was used to treat a range of illnesses, from a simple dry cough all the way through to more serious illnesses like gastric ulcers and tuberculosis. The genus name, glycyrriza, is an ancient Greek word translating to English as “sweet root,” which is an appropriate title seeing as the root is actually 50x sweeter than refined sugar! These days, approximately 95% of all licorice root harvested for commercial use is used as a flavouring for candy and cigarettes, though its use in pharmaceuticals is on the up as more research into ancient medicinal methods is being done.
The licorice plant is native to Asia and the Mediterranean region, though commercial licorice is now sourced mostly from Southern and Central Europe and throughout the Middle East. In the autumn of the plant’s 3rd or 4th year of growth, the roots are dug up, washed and transported to warehouses where they’re crushed by millstones. The pulp of the crushed root is boiled to make extract, which is then vacuum dried to the paste and powder form we’re used to seeing it in.
The most predominant and consistent medicinal use for licorice root is as a demulcent, which is a substance that relieves inflammation and irritation. Studies are currently being undertaken, however, on the anti-carcinogenic properties of licorice. It’s been found that licorice extract may act by inhibiting the metabolic activation of some mutagens. In Japan, SNMC (Stronger Neo Minophagen C) is a commonly prescribed glycyrrhizin solution administered intravenously for the treatment of chronic hepatitis.
There are a number of ways you can implement licorice into your diet, without necessarily having to go down to the candy store (not that there’s anything wrong with doing that every once in a while!). Here are a few ideas for you to try out at home:
Hard and woody roots impart the most flavour when steeped in hot liquid – so it’s very easy to infuse teas, syrups and sauces with the licorice flavour by adding the root, heating and then removing the root just before serving. Try adding it to your favourite black tea for a distinctive and bold anise note. You can play around with the intensity of the flavour by limiting or increasing how long you keep the root in the liquid for.
The powder, unlike the root, can be added straight to recipes, whether that’s by adding it to a savoury rub, stirring it into a cake batter or by adding it to a custard. A personal favourite of ours is adding it to fruit while cooking – it goes particularly nicely with rhubarb and raspberries due to their slightly tart flavour and their contrast to the sweet licorice.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can use licorice as a foaming agent in your home brew beer! It also preforms really well in compost, particularly for growing mushrooms.
Who would have thought that such a small little root could be used in such a multitude of ways? We’re proud to carry both licorice root and licorice powder here at Westpoint Naturals, and are always looking for new ways to utilize our natural ingredients. Please share your ideas with us through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!