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A member of the pea and bean family (Leguminosae/Fabaceae), Glycyrrhiza glabra is best known for its use in making liquorice-flavoured confectionery. Its scientific name is taken from the Greek for sweet root (glykys, meaning sweet, and rhiza, meaning root). It is cultivated for its rhizomes (underground stems) that contain the compound glycyrrhizin, which is 50 times sweeter than sugar.

Glycyrrhiza glabra (liquorice)

[ILDIS]

International Legume Database and Information Service

Conservation
Not Threatened
Morphology General Habit
Perennial, Not climbing, Herb
Vernacular
Alcacuz, Biyan, Buyan, Chikher-Evs, Common Licorice, Common Liquorice, Dzirtkbila, Jethi-Madh, Kahles Sussholz, Kzyl Miya, Lakritsipensas, Lakritsvaxt, Lakritza, Lemn Dulce, Licorice, Liquorice, Liquorizia, Matutik, Miya, Modligroszek, Mulhatti, Nutzgen C

[KSP]

Kew Species Profiles

General Description

A member of the pea and bean family (Leguminosae/Fabaceae), Glycyrrhiza glabra is best known for its use in making liquorice-flavoured confectionery. Its scientific name is taken from the Greek for sweet root (glykys, meaning sweet, and rhiza, meaning root). It is cultivated for its rhizomes (underground stems) that contain the compound glycyrrhizin, which is 50 times sweeter than sugar.

Also well-known as a medicinal plant, G. glabra is used in the production of cough mixtures and throat lozenges, as well as an ingredient to mask the unpleasant taste of some medicines. There are about 20 species in the genus Glycyrrhiza, and many of these are used locally to make liquorice confectionery.

Used as an ingredient in cough mixtures and throat lozenges, Glycyrrhiza glabra has been used to treat sore throats, mouth ulcers, stomach ulcers, inflammatory stomach conditions and indigestion. It is also used to combat food poisoning in modern Chinese herbalism. Liquorice rhizomes can be chewed or made into tea, which with other anti-spasmodic herbs is often taken for menstrual cramps. Liquorice is also used as filler in capsules and added to medicines as a sweetener to mask the unpleasant taste of other ingredients

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

Glycyrrhiza glabra is native to Eurasia, northern Africa and western Asia, where it grows up to 1,200 m above sea level. It has also been introduced to many countries, for example the USA where it is a weed of moist roadside sites. Liquorice is also cultivated as a crop plant, particularly in Russia, Spain and the Middle East.

Description

Overview: A sticky, perennial herb with underground stems (rhizomes). The hairy stems are upright, growing to about 1 m tall

Leaves: Divided into 9-17 leaflets, held on a leaf stalk 10-20 cm long. The leaflets are arranged in pairs along a central axis, with a single leaflet pointing outwards at the end. The leaflets are 2-4 cm long and bear dotted glands on the surface.

Flowers: Light blue to violet (rarely white), 1.0-1.5 cm long and resembling sweet pea flowers in shape. The flowers are held in loose, conical spires, almost as long as the leaves, each consisting of 10 or more individual flowers.

Fruits: Pods (fruits) are reddish-brown, 1-3 cm long and 4-5 mm wide. Each pod contains 2-5 brown to blackish seeds.

Threats and conservation

Widely distributed in Eurasia, Glycyrrhiza glabra is not considered to be threatened. Where it is cultivated as a crop, it is normally harvested in a sustainable manner, although there are some concerns that the commercial harvest of rhizomes can be destructive to naturally occurring populations and their habitats.

Uses Confectionery

Glycyrrhiza glabra contains the compound glycyrrhizin, which is 50 times sweeter than sugar. It was well known by the ancient Greeks and Romans for its sweetness and is still a popular flavouring for confectionery today. Cultivated as a crop plant, the underground stems (rhizomes) of G. glabra are harvested and the juice extracted before being concentrated by boiling. The solid extract is used in confectionery, such as traditional liquorice sticks and wheels.

Pontefract cakes, or pomfrets, were originally made for their medicinal properties, but later became popular as confectionery; they were produced in Pontefract (Yorkshire, UK) from about 1660 to 1960. Anethole, a compound from the anise plant ( Pimpinella anisum ), is often used as flavouring for confectionery in place of, or in addition to, G. glabra extract.

Other uses

Liquorice is used in the production of drinks, for example as an ingredient in many root beers, and some brewers use it to colour stout (a dark beer made using roasted malt or barley).

It is also used in plug tobacco (a form of chewing tobacco), shoe polish and soap and as a fibre for the production of plastics and fibreboard. Spent liquorice rhizomes (underground stems) are used in fire-extinguishing agents and as compost for growing mushrooms.

Millennium Seed Bank: Saving seeds

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.

Six collections of Glycyrrhiza glabra seeds are held in Kew's Millennium Seed Bank based at Wakehurst in West Sussex.

See Kew's Seed Information Database for further information on Glycyrrhiza glabra seeds

Cultivation

Liquorice can be propagated by the division of rhizomes (underground stems) in early spring. Care should be taken to ensure each piece of rhizome contains a bud.

Propagation can also be carried out by sowing seed. Seeds should be pre-soaked in water and sown in the autumn in a greenhouse. In late spring, plants can be planted out in the open, but care should be taken to protect the new shoots from slugs. Alkaline, sandy but moist soil is preferable. Plant growth is initially slow, but once established the species can become weedy and difficult to remove if not kept under control by regular harvesting.

In commercial situations, the whole plant is dug up after three to five years to harvest the rhizomes, which are cleaned, trimmed, sorted and dried before being pressed into bales for shipping.

This species at Kew

Pressed and dried specimens of Glycyrrhiza glabra are held in Kew's Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details of some of these specimens can be seen online in Kew's Herbarium Catalogue.

Specimens of liquorice roots and stems are held in Kew's Economic Botany Collection in the Sir Joseph Banks Building, where they are available to researchers by appointment.

Ecology
Dry, open scrubland, damp ditches or near streams; often in soils with high nitrogen content.
Conservation
Not assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria, but not considered to be threatened.
Hazards

It has been reported that excessive liquorice consumption can lead to cardiac dysfunction and severe hypertension.

[ILDIS]
Use
Chemical products, Domestic, Environmental, Fibre, Food and Drink, Forage, Medicine, Weed, Wood

[KSP]
Use
Confectionery, medicine, beverages.

Doubtfully present in:

Libya

Native to:

Afghanistan, Albania, Bulgaria, Central European Rus, China North-Central, Cyprus, East Aegean Is., East European Russia, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Krym, Lebanon-Syria, Mongolia, North Caucasus, Pakistan, Palestine, Romania, Sardegna, Saudi Arabia, Sicilia, South European Russi, Tadzhikistan, Transcaucasus, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, West Siberia, Xinjiang, Yugoslavia

Introduced into:

Algeria, Austria, Bangladesh, Cape Provinces, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, France, Hungary, Maldives, New South Wales, Portugal, South Australia, Spain, Switzerland, Victoria

English
Liquorice

Glycyrrhiza glabra L. appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status
Jul 18, 1927 Krasheninnikov, I.M. [956], Kazakhstan K000118169 syntype
Townsend, C.C. [71/113], Cyprus K000764160
Lindberg, H. [s.n.], Cyprus K000764161
Davis [43596], Turkey K000316299
Dinsmore, J.E. [1630] K000316296
Lombard, A. [24855 (nat.Herb.)], South Africa K000764162
Lowne, B.T. [s.n.], Israel K000316297
Toppin, S.M. [225], India K000764166
Acocks, J.P.H. [21677], South Africa K000764163
Xuang Xiulan [s.n.], China K000764167
Davis [24780], Turkey K000316298
Apr 4, 1992 Li, X.Y. [831265], Xinjiang Glycyrrhiza alalensis K000881048 isotype
Rico, L. [1761], Armenia Glycyrrhiza hirsuta K000297274

First published in Sp. Pl.: 742 (1753)

Accepted by

  • Dobignard, A. & Chatelain, C. (2012). Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 4: 1-431. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève.
  • Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds.) (2003). Plants of Southern Africa an annotated checklist Strelitzia 14: 1-1231. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Govaerts, R. (2003). World Checklist of Seed Plants Database in ACCESS G: 1-40325.
  • Grankina, V. (2008 publ. 2009). The system of the genus Glycyrrhiza L. (Fabaceae) Novosti Sistematiki Vysshikh Rastenii 40: 89-108.
  • Greuter, W., Burdet, H.M. & Long, G. (eds.) (1989). Med-checklist 4: 1-458. Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques de la Ville de Genève.
  • Kumar, S. & Sane, P.V. (2003). Legumes of South Asia. A Checklist: 1-536. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Lepschi, B. & Monro, A. (Project Coordinators) (2014). Australian Plant Census (APC) Council of Heads of Australian Herbaria. http://www.anbg.gov.au/chah/apc/index.html.
  • Litvinskaya, S.A. & Murtazaliev, R.A. (2013). Flora of the Northern Caucasus: An Atlas and Identification Book: 1-688. Fiton XXI.
  • Lock, J.M. (1989). Legumes of Africa a check-list: 1-619. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Milgahid, A.M. (1989). Flora of Saudi Arabia, ed. 3, 2: 1-282. University Libraries, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
  • Mostaph, M.K. & Uddin, S.B. (2013). Dictionary of plant names of Bangladesh, Vasc. Pl.: 1-434. Janokalyan Prokashani, Chittagong, Bangladesh.
  • Nikitin, V.V. (ed.) (1949). Flora Turkmenii 4: 1-364. Turkmenskoe gosudarstvennoe izd., Ashkhabad.
  • Rechinger, K.H. & al. (1984). Papilionaceae II Flora Iranica 157: 1-499. Naturhistorisches Museums Wien.
  • Townsend, C.C. (1974). Flora of Iraq 3: 1-662. Ministry of Agriculture & Agrarian Reform, Baghdad.
  • Tutin, T.G. & al. (eds.) (1968). Flora Europaea 2: 1-469. Cambridge University Press.
  • Wu, Z. & Raven, P.H. (eds.) (2010). Flora of China 10: 1-642. Science Press (Beijing) & Missouri Botanical Garden Press (St. Louis).
  • Yakovlev, G.P., Sytin, A.K. & Roskov, Y.R. (1996). Legumes of Northern Eurasia. A checklist: 1-724. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Literature

Kew Species Profiles

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Kew Backbone Distributions

  • Germishuizen, G. & Meyer, N.L. (eds.) (2003). Plants of Southern Africa an annotated checklist Strelitzia 14: 1-1231. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
  • Greuter, W., Burdet, H.M. & Long, G. (eds.) (1989). Med-checklist 4: 1-458. Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques de la Ville de Genève.
  • Kumar, S. & Sane, P.V. (2003). Legumes of South Asia. A Checklist: 1-536. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Lepschi, B. & Monro, A. (Project Coordinators) (2014). Australian Plant Census (APC) Council of Heads of Australian Herbaria. http://www.anbg.gov.au/chah/apc/index.html.
  • Lock, J.M. (1989). Legumes of Africa a check-list: 1-619. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Milgahid, A.M. (1989). Flora of Saudi Arabia, ed. 3, 2: 1-282. University Libraries, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
  • Mostaph, M.K. & Uddin, S.B. (2013). Dictionary of plant names of Bangladesh, Vasc. Pl.: 1-434. Janokalyan Prokashani, Chittagong, Bangladesh.
  • Rechinger, K.H. & al. (1984). Papilionaceae II Flora Iranica 157: 1-499. Naturhistorisches Museums Wien.
  • Wu, Z. & Raven, P.H. (eds.) (2010). Flora of China 10: 1-642. Science Press (Beijing) & Missouri Botanical Garden Press (St. Louis).
  • Yakovlev, G.P., Sytin, A.K. & Roskov, Y.R. (1996). Legumes of Northern Eurasia. A checklist: 1-724. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

International Legume Database and Information Service

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