Yep, you really can grow liquorice yourself, right in your backyard! You might remember the old fashioned liquorice sticks you used to be able to buy? Those treats you chewed on for a whole day; they look like a piece of barky stem straight from a tree? Well, that’s the liquorice plant root. And yes, it is actually feasible to grow and harvest these yourself.
There are so very many benefits to growing your own liquorice, or just buying organic root sticks from a good shop. I’ll outline some of the benefits below, but this article is mainly to give you information on where to grow liquorice, how to grow it, how to propagate it and how to harvest and store the roots.
Let’s start with:
Where does liquorice plant grow and where does it come from?
Liquorice will adapt to many climates, thank goodness, as it is one of the most useful and versatile plants we can grow ourselves. It’s always important to look at where the plant grows naturally; where it grows natively. It is believed to have originated from the East, but it has been grown in many other areas (including Europe, the Middle East, Africa and China) for a very long time.
It will grow well in temperate and sub-tropical climates. I’m in the tropics and it grows well here too, provided it has excellent drainage. Raised beds or mounds are an absolute must in the tropics, which bring with them many other problems – such as stabilising the raised mounds!
Last downpour was 1800mm of rain in 2 weeks and I believe we lost most of the soil from raised mounds. I’m going to try stabilising them with nice big river rocks. The raised garden which is surrounded by copper’s logs is fine, so that’s a solution too.
Liquorice is frost hardy, mainly due to it being dormant in water. It will hibernate, and re-shoot when the weather warms up.
Is it annual, biennual or perennial?
Liquorice is a hardy, easy care perennial plant. It will go dormant in winter (making it frost hardy) and will re-shoot in spring.
How does liquorice grow?
It is a hardy perennial plant and will grow to around 1m to 1.5m tall. Roots can spread far and wide, and you want to give them plenty of space so plant them 1-3m apart. I’ve included a photo below of the foliage of the plant, and the roots above.
Root systems are very strong, made up of a taproot and many smaller roots that spread out from the base. Roots are brown and fibrous, and the inner part is yellow.
The foliage is very fern like and quite pretty. Flowers are a pale to deep blueish purple and are followed by seed pods with small brown seeds inside.
Liquorice plants are stoloniferous, which means they grow in a similar fashion to strawberry plants – it spreads by growing new plants along the root system, ‘suckers’.
Liquorice prefers a full sun position, with well draining soils. If, like me, you get a lot of annual rainfall, consider planting them on mounds or raised gardens to make sure the roots don’t get waterlogged.
Prepare your soil before planting by adding lime and good soil enhancers such as manure, compost, worm casting etc. Soil needs to be nice and loose so the root system can develop well, and quite deep so the tap root can establish itself. It also makes it easier to harvest!
Make sure you have some mulch ready to go to keep the soil and the plants roots protected once your plants are in the ground. Mulch is excellent for retaining moisture, keeping soil healthy, increasing earth worms and microbe activity, and will protect your plants roots against the heat, cold and drying out.
Liquorice plants need plenty of space for those chunky roots to spread to their hearts content. Give them 1-3 m2 each. Plant some other plants with them for the first couple of years for some protection and to create a micro climate. Don’t plant them in established gardens unless you don’t mind liquorice plants popping up throughout.
Depending on the size of your plant at the time of planting, it can take 2-4 years before you can harvest the roots. Seed grown plants will be slower to mature (and therefore harvest) than plants grown from root division.
- Dig up the roots
- Wash well
- Dry in the sun, in the shade or other drying methods like dehydrators and ovens.
- Store in a cool, dry position away from light.
- When stored properly, liquorice roots will keep for a long time.
How to propagate liquorice?
Glycyrrhiza glabra (fancy names coming out now!) can be successfully grown from seed (make sure its high quality) and root division/cutting
How to grow liquorice from seed
- Place seeds in the fridge for cold treatment for 2-3 weeks.
- After 2-3 weeks in the fridge, soak the seeds in hot water overnight. This will soften the hard coat.
- Plant in loose, well draining seedling mix. Add some lime before planting.
- Aim to plant your seeds in spring or summer.
- Germination can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 years so don’t give up too soon!
How to grow liquorice from root division/cutting
- Select a well-established plant
- Select a 20-40cm long piece of root with several buds.
- Plant the root divisions in large pots or straight in the garden (well draining soil!)
- Plant them in spring, summer or autumn – avoid winter.
Benefits of liquorice
There are so many benefits to liquorice it would be impossible to list them all here. For exceptional herb information see Isabell Shipard’s book ‘How can I use Herbs in my Daily Life’ – it is an incredible resource. Here’s 6 of my favourites:
- Liquorice contains glycyrrhizin – 50 times sweeter than sugar. It is really yummy to just chew on a dried liquorice root piece and will last all day.
- The roots are a great tool to help people to smoke smoking. Holding the root is similar to a cigarette, and chewing on the root is very pleasant and keeps the hands and mouth occupied. In addition to this, it is also an expectorant, which will help liquefy mucus and clear the respiratory system.
- It is healthy for your teeth so makes a great sweet snack. Liquorice kills bacteria in the mouth, so chew some after every meal!
- Liquorice has been tested in numerous trials and has been found to be beneficial for the stomach, by spreading a protective living over the stomach wall – particularly useful for stomach ulcers.
- Ointments may be beneficial in the treatment of eczema and other skin conditions
- Supports your adrenal systems, and may help you feel less stressed and more energised
Oh, and liquorice (or licorice) makes a great tea! Check out my article on herbal infusions and dedoctions to see which method is suitable for this herb. And here’s some great high-protein plants you can grow alongside your Glycyrrhiza glabra: High-Protein Plants you can grow yourself