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Liquorice Plant: Uses, Benefits, and Cultivation Tips

Field of Liquorice Plants growing in a sunset

The liquorice plant, scientifically known as Glycyrrhiza glabra, holds a unique spot in the world of herbs due to its sweet roots and numerous health benefits. Native to Western Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe, this herbaceous perennial has been used in various cultures for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Its roots are especially valued for their ability to aid in conditions like diabetes and hypertension.

A vibrant liquorice plant sways in the warm breeze, its deep green leaves and thin stems reaching towards the sun, surrounded by rich, dark soil

Beyond its medicinal properties, the liquorice plant is also appreciated for its ornamental value. With its blue flowers and pinnate leaves, it can be an attractive addition to gardens. For those interested in cultivating it, this resilient plant thrives in well-draining soil and can be grown both outdoors and in containers, making it versatile for different gardening preferences and spaces.

One of the appealing aspects of the liquorice plant is its relatively easy care requirements. Gardeners need only ensure it has adequate sunlight and water to keep the soil moist but not soggy. While generally resistant to most pests and diseases, this plant still requires regular monitoring to keep it healthy and vibrant.

Key Takeaways

  • The liquorice plant, Glycyrrhiza glabra, is valued for its sweet roots and health benefits.
  • It can be grown in both garden beds and containers, needing well-draining soil and adequate sunlight.
  • This plant helps with conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

Botanical Profile

The liquorice plant, known scientifically as Glycyrrhiza glabra, belongs to the legume family Fabaceae. It is a perennial herbaceous plant that produces sweet, aromatic roots used for flavouring and medicinal purposes.

Plant Classification

Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a member of the Fabaceae family, also known as Leguminosae. This classification places it among legumes, which include beans and peas.

It is a perennial plant, meaning it lives for more than two years. The genus name Glycyrrhiza is derived from Greek words meaning “sweet root”. The plant is native to regions such as Western Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe.

Liquorice is related to other plants in the Fabaceae family. These plants play a crucial role in agriculture and gardening by enriching soil nitrogen. They help maintain soil fertility, making liquorice not only valuable for its root but also for its ecological benefits.

Physical Characteristics

Liquorice grows to about 1.2 metres tall with upright stems. The plant has sticky leaves that are dark green to silver in colour. These leaves are composed of numerous leaflets arranged in opposite pairs along the stem.

In late summer, liquorice produces pale blue to violet flowers. These small flowers are grouped in loose, upright spikes. The roots of the liquorice plant, harvested in autumn, are thick and woody.

These roots are the primary source of liquorice flavour, known for their sweet taste. The root structure allows the plant to survive in various climates, particularly those of South-east Europe and South-west Asia. More details about the liquorice plant can be found at Wikipedia and RHS Gardening.

Cultivation and Care

A sunny field with rows of green liquorice plants, surrounded by a fence. A gardener tends to the plants, watering and pruning them with care

Growing liquorice plants requires attention to soil, sunlight, watering, and seasonal care to ensure healthy growth and a good harvest.

Soil Requirements

Liquorice thrives in well-drained soil or sandy soil, with a slightly acidic to neutral pH range of 6.1 to 7.8. It prefers rich, loamy soil that retains moisture but should not become soggy.

Incorporating organic matter like compost into the soil will improve its structure and nutrient content. While liquorice can tolerate less fertile ground, amending the soil will lead to better growth.

Avoid planting liquorice in heavy clay soils unless they are well-amended to improve drainage. For container growing, use a high-quality potting mix with good drainage properties.

Watering and Moisture

Keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged. Overwatering can lead to root rot, while under-watering will hinder growth.

Regular watering is crucial during the growing season, especially in Spring and Summer when evaporation rates are higher. Deep watering once a week is typically adequate, but it should be adjusted based on weather conditions and soil moisture levels.

Mulching around the base of the plants can help retain soil moisture and moderate soil temperature.

Sunlight and Location

Liquorice plants flourish in full sun but can tolerate partial shade, particularly in regions with very hot summers.

The ideal location should receive at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Avoid shady areas as this can reduce growth and delay the development of strong roots.

In cooler climates, planting liquorice in a spot that gets maximum sunlight helps the plant thrive despite lower overall temperatures.

Propagation Methods

Liquorice can be propagated by seed or through root cuttings.

When growing from seed, stratify the seeds by soaking them in water for a few hours and then placing them in a damp paper towel in the fridge for 3–4 weeks. Plant the seeds about 1/4-inch deep and expect germination within 14 to 30 days.

Alternatively, use root cuttings: take healthy, thick roots from an established plant, cut them into sections, and plant them in loose, well-draining soil. Root cuttings should establish new plants within a few weeks.

Seasonal Maintenance

Spring is the best time to plant liquorice outdoors. During this time, prune back any dead or damaged growth to encourage new shoots.

Throughout Summer, closely monitor watering and weed control. In Autumn, apply a layer of mulch to protect the roots from winter cold.

The plant is hardy but benefits from protection against extreme winter frosts. In regions with harsh winters, consider covering the base with an insulating material. Roots are generally harvested in the third or fourth year, usually in the autumn when the plants are dormant. But in southern Italy, where the growing cycle is only 9 months, the plants are harvested in earlier.

Health Benefits and Uses

A vibrant liquorice plant stands tall in a sun-drenched field, its long green leaves reaching towards the sky. The plant's roots are deeply embedded in the rich, fertile soil, symbolizing its strong connection to the earth and its healing properties

The liquorice plant is praised not only for its unique sweetness and flavour but also for its wide range of health benefits and culinary applications. This section explores its role in traditional medicine and its use in cooking.

Liquorice in Traditional Medicine

Liquorice has been a staple in traditional medicine for centuries. Due to its expectorant properties, it is often used to soothe coughs and colds. The compound glycyrrhizin, found in liquorice root, is believed to help reduce inflammation and treat conditions such as eczema and peptic ulcers.

Moreover, liquorice may aid in lowering high blood pressure. It has also been studied for its potential to improve symptoms of diabetes. Liquorice tea, commonly prepared from the root, is known to provide relief from digestive problems like acid reflux and stomach ulcers. However, excessive consumption of liquorice can lead to high blood pressure and other side effects, so it should be used with caution.

Culinary Applications

Liquorice is widely used for its distinctive sweetness and flavour. In the UK, it’s a popular ingredient in sweets and confectioneries. The root is often boiled to make a sticky, sweet extract used in various candies.

Beyond sweets, liquorice is also used to flavour certain beverages, including herbal teas and liqueurs. The unique taste of liquorice is sometimes added to tobacco products to enhance their flavour. It’s less common in cooking but can be found in some gourmet recipes where a sweet, complex undertone is desired.

In summary, liquorice’s unique flavour and medicinal qualities make it a versatile and valuable plant.

Growing Indoors and in Containers

Growing liquorice plants inside or in containers requires careful attention to light, moisture, and pests. These plants thrive with the right indoor conditions and well-chosen containers to prevent root rot and disease.

Indoor Growing Conditions

Liquorice plants need plenty of light. Keeping them in a spot with full sunlight or near a bright window will help them grow best. If natural light is limited, using grow lights can provide the necessary light spectrum.

Humidity levels should be moderate. While they prefer well-draining soil, they still need moisture. Water them to keep the soil evenly moist, but avoid waterlogging, which can lead to root rot.

Temperature is also important. Ideal indoor temperatures range from 15 to 21 degrees Celsius. Ensure there is good air circulation to prevent diseases. Regularly inspect for pests like spider mites and aphids. Early detection and treatment can prevent infestations.

Container Gardening

Choosing the right container is crucial for liquorice plants. Opt for a tall container with drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. This helps prevent root rot and keeps the roots healthy.

When planting, use a good-quality potting mix. Place gravel or small stones at the bottom of the pot to improve drainage. Position the plant so that it can spill over the sides, creating an attractive look.

Watering should keep the soil evenly moist, but be cautious not to overwater. Containers dry out faster than ground soil, so regular checks are needed. Container-grown plants can be moved to more suitable locations as weather conditions change. This flexibility helps avoid extreme conditions that could harm the plant.

Regularly feeding with a balanced fertiliser supports healthy growth. As with indoor plants, monitor for pests and diseases, treating them promptly to maintain the plant’s health.

Pests, Diseases, and Common Problems

Liquorice plant with wilting leaves, surrounded by aphids and mold

Licorice plants, like many perennials, can be challenged by pests and diseases. Key issues to watch for include aphids, root rot, and leaf spot disease. Identifying these problems early and implementing effective treatments can help maintain a healthy, vibrant plant.

Identifying Common Pests

Aphids are among the most common pests targeting licorice plants. These small, soft-bodied insects feed on the plant’s sap, causing stunted growth, distorted leaves, and yellowing of the foliage. Inspecting the undersides of leaves can help spot these pests early.

Another pest is spider mites, which are tiny and can cause significant damage by sucking plant juices. Signs of infestation include webbing on the plant and speckled leaves.

Regular checks for pests and removing affected stems can help keep the plant pest-free. Organic insecticides or neem oil can be effective treatment options to control infestations.

Disease Management

Licorice plants are susceptible to diseases such as root rot and leaf spot. Root rot typically affects the roots, leading to wilting and yellowing leaves and can eventually kill the plant. To identify root rot, look for dark, mushy roots with a foul odour. Prevent this disease by ensuring well-drained soil and avoiding overwatering.

Leaf spot disease is another common issue, presenting as discoloured or wilted leaves with spots or lesions. This condition can be managed by keeping the foliage dry and applying fungicides as necessary. Removing and disposing of infected leaves can also help prevent the spread of the disease.


Proper liquorice plant care involves regular monitoring and maintenance. Dense foliage can be a breeding ground for various issues, so pruning is essential to allow air circulation. Avoid overhead watering to prevent moisture-related diseases.

Should you notice wilting or yellowing leaves, check both the soil and roots for signs of rot or pest damage. Correcting these issues might involve adjusting watering routines or applying specific treatments such as fungicides or organic pest controls.

By staying vigilant and addressing problems promptly, you can ensure your liquorice plant thrives in a healthy environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Liquorice plants are fascinating and versatile. Here, we address some common questions, covering where to buy them, how to care for them, their uses, and more.

Where can I buy liquorice plants in the UK?

Nurseries and garden centres are good places to check. Online retailers also offer liquorice plants, offering more delivery options and varieties.

How should I care for a liquorice plant?

Keep the soil moist but not too wet. Place the plant in a warm location around 20°C. Space plants generously to accommodate their extensive root systems. For detailed planting instructions, see more here.

What are the primary uses of liquorice?

Liquorice is often used for its medicinal properties, including anti-inflammatory effects and aiding digestion. It also lowers blood pressure and reduces anxiety. Additionally, liquorice is used in sweets and flavouring for some beverages.

From what is liquorice derived?

Liquorice is derived from the root of the Glycyrrhiza glabra plant. The root contains glycyrrhizin, which gives liquorice its distinctive sweet flavour.

Are there any toxic elements in liquorice plants?

Yes, excessive consumption of liquorice can lead to adverse health effects, such as hypertension and hypokalemia. The compound glycyrrhizin is responsible for these effects, so moderation is key.

Can you consume parts of the liquorice plant, and if so, which?

The root of the liquorice plant is the part commonly consumed. It can be used fresh or dried, often in teas, sweets, and medicinal preparations. Always consult with a healthcare professional before using it for health purposes.

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