Wild Licorice ( Glycyrrhiza lepidota Pursh, Fabaceae) American Licorice Heirloom Herb
Height 1.5 m 3 ft
Wild Licorice is an erect perennial that grows to 1 - 1.5 m tall, from deep, woody rhizomes that has a licorice flavour. The leaves are alternate, each with 7 - 21 oblong leaflets. The flowers are yellowish-white, in spike-like clusters from the leaf axils. Fruit consists of oblong brown pods that are covered with long hooked prickles.
The sweet-tasting roots of wild licorice were once important medicine to the Great Plains Native Americans, for many conditions including diarrhea, stomach ache, toothache, coughs, sore throat, fever, and the flu. The rhizome was traditionally roasted in coals, pounded to remove tough fibers from the center of the rhizome, and eaten. The rhizome can be eaten raw or roasted - when slow roasted they are said to taste like sweet potatoes. The compound responsible for the sweetness is glycyrrhizin, a substance 50 times as sweet as sugar. Wild licorice is also used as a flavouring for root beer and chewing tobacco, but it is possible that its market share could be increased with the proper promotion as a natural sugar substitute whereas, most 'licorice' candy in North America is flavoured with anise oil, wild licorice has a unique market potential as a natural sugar substitute, due to growing concerns over side effects of other synthetic sugar substitutes. Any product is unsafe if consumed in excess- licorice over-consumption is dangerous for people with high blood pressure or liver disease. Wild licorice has also been tested as a feed additive for cattle and hogs.
Each attractive bright yellowish to white flower clusters are pollinated by insects during the late summer. The flower is replaced by an oblong green pod, about ½ in long, covered in hooked bristles and containing a few seeds. As the pods ripen the color changes to coppery brown, then dark brown. The pods remain through the winter; harvest when dried and store for future planting. Note: hard seeds need to be scarified or soaked in cold water overnight to break the seed coat prior to planting.
- Average to moist soil
- In late fall or early spring, direct sow the treated seed 1/4 in deep.
- OR start the seeds indoors, in a flat or individual pots 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost; keep the soil lightly moist and at a temperature of 70 degrees F until germination. Transplant seedlings out when all risk of frost has passed and when they are strong enough to handle.
- Germinates typically within 2 weeks.
- Spacing: 3 ft
- Harvest: The roots and stolens are harvested in the fall of the 3rd or 4th year, before the plants have gone to seed. Flowers should be pinched off as they form in the year of harvest. The roots are dried and crushed, then boiled to evaporate off the liquid, leaving a thick black paste or solid. Yields are 2.5 to 5 tons/acre (5.5 to 11 tonnes/ha).
- Seed Count: 10