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Licorice

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Licorice - Other Names, Past and Present

Chinese: gan cao / zhi gan cao / gan zao
Japanese: kanzo
Korean: gamcho
Malay: likuoris
Sanskrit: yasthimadhu / yashti-madhuka
Hindi: nadyapana / jethi-madh
German: lakritze
Dutch: salmiak / salmiakki
French (archaic):
Greek: glukurrhiza (lit. "sweet root")
French: regalisse / reglisse / racine de reglisse / bois sucre
Spanish: regaliz
Italian: liquirizia
English: licorice / liquorice
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Glycyrrhiza glabra

Background and History

Licorice is a very popular flavour and candy that not many people know is (in all actuality) a plant. Licorice is technically speaking, the extract which is derived from the roots of the Glycyrrhza glabra, and is, consequently, also the very plant itself. Long used since ancient times as an all-natural sweetener and herbal medicine, licorice plays an integral role in candy and confectionary manufacturing. Licorice is a moderately-sized herbaceous perennial plant usually measuring no more than one metre in height upon maturity. Preferring to thrive in deep valleys and inaccessible areas under full display to sunlight, licorice grows best in well-drained soils dry climates. Chiefly cultivated for its roots, a typical plant usually takes some two to three years to reach full maturity, after which it is then ready for harvesting.

It is characterised by its dark-green pinnate leaves which alternate with smaller leaflets of a similar hue. It is also notable for its purplish or bluish-white inflorescence which is arranged loosely in alternating bushels all throughout the plant. The plant also possesses tiny pod-shaped fruits usually no more than an inch long, typically pale green to jade-green in colour, housing a number of tiny seeds. [1]

Common / Popular Uses

Licorice has been employed since ancient times as an all-natural sweetener, having been employed in Ancient Egypt as it was in Greece, Rome, and China. Originally wild-crafted (but later cultivated), licorice is chiefly prized for its roots, which are harvested, cleaned, extracted for its essence. The primary compound that makes licorice sweet is the compound glycyrrhizin - a naturally occurring sweetener that is reputedly up to fifty times sweeter than regular sucrose or fructose-based sweeteners. Rendering licorice sweet from the roots used to be (and in some ways, still is) a labour intensive process which involved a slow and regulated boiling of the roots until all of the essence is extracted and whatever remnants of liquid employed for the maceration has thoroughly evaporated. [2] The practice of rendering glycyrrhizin in this manner is an age-old process that dates back to Ancient China. The rendered liquid is a glossy black in colour, with the distinct aroma redolent of aniseeds due to the presence of the chemical compound anethole - the primary aromatic compound of herbs and spices such as fennel, tarragon, and anise. This rendered liquid may be kept in liquid form by storing it in a relatively warm environment (due to its very sweet nature, licorice extract almost never spoils), or otherwise allowed to cool and set in order to solidify. In olden days, liquid licorice extract was kept in pots or jars and used as needed to sweeten foodstuffs and beverages, while solidified ones were generally taken on long journeys as they kept for longer and was far easier to carry. Licorice extract is the primary ingredient of licorice candy - the ever familiar chewy, black or dark-purple candy shaped like a string.

However, prior to the invention of the licorice-based confection, individuals have been partaking of the sugary goodness of licorice simply by gnawing on cleaned roots - a habit which was quite commonplace in Spain and some parts of Southern America, Deutschland, Sweden and Germany until well into the late 1950s. Whole licorice sticks were simply slivers of the cleaned and dried root, usually measuring some eight millimeters in diameter. Licorice 'pellets' were also commonplace, and these were simply small pieces of licorice that, like the sticks, would be chewed on and spat when the sweetness dissipated. [3] Unlike modern licorice sticks (which were invented sometime in the middle of the 1960s) which are made from a mixture of licorice extract, binders, preservatives, colouring, and an assortment of other flavourings, whole licorice sticks and pellets had a distinct flavour which is altogether different from that of the confectionaries available today. There is even a range of salty-tasting licorice confections called "salmiak", which is a well-loved treat in European countries. Instead of adding extra amounts of sucrose, salmiak is laced with very trifling amounts of ammonium chloride which creates a unique, salty flavour profile. [4] Due to its tastiness, licorice extract has even been integrated as a primary flavouring agent for a number of carbonated beverages, sweetmeats, snacks, and confections. Licorice has even been employed to flavour tobacco, typically pipe tobacco, dip, snus, and chewing tobacco. [5] When employed for flavouring smoking tobacco, it adds a smoky aroma which makes the mouthfeel of the smoke more robust. For non-smoking tobacco products, it adds a nostalgic, well-loved flavour which readily enhances and is enhanced by the tobacco itself resulting in a more pleasant taste.

In ancient China, the practice of using licorice extract as a sweetener or chewing on its roots were quite commonplace. The Chinese placed much stock in licorice and employed it for medicinal purposes, often using it as a base for herbal suspensions and syrups in lieu of honey. When employed medicinally, real licorice extract is an excellent decongestant, digestif and anti-inflammatory. [6] In Traditional Chinese Medicine, one may be tasked to chew on a small sliver of the root, or to otherwise drink a mild decoction of it in order to treat a variety of stomach disorders, among them dyspepsia, indigestion, and flatulence. More potent decoctions or slightly larger amounts of the chewable root were often offered as a remedy for graver digestive ills such as peptic ulcer and chronic gastritis due to its ability to neutralise the stomach acids while hastening recovery. [7] Liquid licorice extracts were taken orally, usually by itself or otherwise infused with other medicinal herbs as a remedy for coughing, tuberculosis, and asthma, since licorice is a powerful decongestant and expectorant. . [8] Drinking licorice-root tea, chewing on a piece of licorice, or even just partaking of a teaspoon of licorie extract may even help to combat chronic fatigue syndrome and remedy hoarseness of voice, strep-throat, rhinitis, and may even help to alleviate the discomforts brought about by tonsillitis. Moderate concentrations of licorice-root decoction can even be helpful in the management of chronic arthritis, muscular pain and rheumatism. [9] Very strong decoctions of licorice root may be applied topically to treat skin conditions such as eczema, dandruff, and psoriasis. It has even been employed as an all-natural hair-rinse believed to add body, shine, and lustre to dull, lifeless hair. Gargling with strong decoctions of licorice root may even help to hasten the healing of canker sores, cold sores, and even remedy gingivitis.

Nowadays, licorice products specifically made to cater to the health conscious are now available, with encapsulated roots or standardized extracts being sold in health food stores and specialty drug-stores. Loose roots and prepared medicated teas or syrups may also be found in Chinese apothecaries or otherwise bought online.

Perhaps the most surprising medicinal property found in licorice is its potent anti-viral and hepatoprotective properties. [10] Traditional holistic practices originally prescribed licorice root tea or extract for the treatment of hepatitis, tuberculosis, and other virally transmitted diseases. Recent studies have shown that traditional prescriptions were not far from the mark, as licorice did indeed show powerful antiviral effects. Traditional herbalism also employed licorice as a supplement for the treatment of cancer owing to its adaptogenic and immuno-boosting properties. [11] When not employing it as it is, Traditional Chinese Medicine often integrates licorice root to medicated teas as a complimentary spice in order to strengthen and enhance the overall efficacy of the medicinal brew. Moderate consumption of licorice-containing products or natural homeopathic remedies containing licorice may even help to regulate irregular hormonal levels in both men and women. Furthermore, due to its insulinregulating properties, small amounts of licorice may prove to be beneficial to individuals who suffer from diabetes. [12]

Esoteric / Magickal Uses

When employed magickally, licorice root is generally employed in the brewing of love and lust potions as it is believed to possess commandeering properties. In African-American conjure, Voodoo, and Hoodoo, licorice root is often employed for fixing spells, as it is believed to grant the conjurer control over their intended victim. It is often made or otherwise integrated into mojo bags and worn as a talisman to allow the bearer to exude confidence and exercise unflinching and unquestionable control over a person or happenstance. When employed for matters of love, licorice root is often included in lust spells or seduction spells. Dried licorice root can even be burnt as an incense to ritualistically charge and fortify oneself or one's magickal items with power, or to allow a magician to focus on a task with unbending intent. [13]

Licorice Root Safety Notes

While licorice root and its extract are relatively safe when consumed in moderation, excessive consumption of licorice and licorice-containing foodstuffs may result in increased blood pressure and muscular failure, although such symptoms are quickly remedied simply by withdrawing consumption of the herb. Long-term consumption of licorice either as food or as a medicine may also have hepatotoxic side-effects, although such occurrences are rare. It should be noted that pregnant and lactating women are advised to lessen their consumption of licorice and all products containing the substance until the terminus of their pregnancy and nursing, as only as little as a hundred grams of licorice a week may adversely affect the growth, development, mental acuity, and eventual behavioural traits of their offspring. It is advised that individuals should not consume anymore than 100mg of licorice and licoricecontaining products in a day. Individuals with a history of hypertension, epilepsy, and liver problems should best do away with licorice consumption altogether.

References:

[1] [2] [3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquorice

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salmiak

[5] http://drholly.typepad.com/licorice/

[6] http://www.rxlist.com/licorice/supplements.htm

[7 - 8]

[9] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/881.html

[10] http://nccam.nih.gov/health/licoriceroot

[11] http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/natural-medicine/herbal-remedies/licorice-herbal-remedies.htm

[12] http://chinese.herbs.webs-sg.com/articles_32.html

[13] http://herb-magic.com/licorice-root.html

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt. © herbs-info.com 2013

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